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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Phillies ink Romero to three-year pact

Lefty's strong stretch run rewarded with $12 million deal
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- What began as a hopeful experiment has now become a dedicated commitment. The Phillies signed left-handed reliever J.C. Romero to a three-year contract extension on Saturday night, transforming a pitcher who was unemployed just five months prior into a bullpen mainstay.

"J.C. had an outstanding three months for us this year, particularly down the stretch," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro said in a statement. "He was an integral part of our winning the NL East, and we're very happy we could get him signed before he hit the open market."

The deal is worth $12 million, and includes a club option for 2011 that would bring the total value to $16.75 million.

After losing a roster spot with the Red Sox in June, Romero signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies and immediately flourished. The lefty didn't make an appearance in the Minors, but instead went straight to Philadelphia, where he posted a 1.24 ERA in 51 games. Perhaps more impressive -- and certainly just as useful -- he allowed only five hits to left-handed hitters during that span.

There aren't many lefties who can boast that kind of success, which would have made Romero a hot commodity on the free-agent market -- and the Phillies knew it.

"I'm glad I didn't have to go out and test the free-agent market," Romero said in a statement. "I had a great time with the Phillies and really wanted to come back."

The fact that the Phillies had such a hometown advantage in re-signing Romero came more from good timing than anything else. Romero signed with the Red Sox as a free agent prior to last season, and while he didn't completely struggle -- posting a 3.15 ERA -- his 15 walks in 20 innings were enough to make the Red Sox leery. So when the team needed roster space to activate Mike Timlin, Romero's control issues -- along with the emergence of lefty Hideki Okajima -- made him expendable.

Lucky for the Phillies. Romero remained just as wild in Philadelphia, but became so unhittable that the walks rarely hurt. Opposing batters mustered only a .130 average off him after the trade.

Romero was considered one of the top lefty relievers in baseball at the start of the decade, posting a 1.89 ERA with the Twins in 2002. But struggles in subsequent years plagued his value, until an apparent revitalization with the Phillies.

With Romero, the Phillies secured another important piece at the back end of their bullpen. The team traded for new closer Brad Lidge on Wednesday, shifting Brett Myers back into the rotation. But some concern lingers.
Geoff Geary, who pitched in more games than any reliever other than Antonio Alfonseca last season, was shipped off to Houston in the trade that landed Lidge. And Alfonseca declared for free agency last month, meaning the Phillies still have plenty of bullpen holes to fill.

That's typical of any year, but coming off a down year, it looms larger. The Phillies ranked just 24th in the Majors in ERA last season with a 4.41 ERA. Even under the assumption that the addition of Lidge will cancel out the subtraction of Myers -- and such an assumption remains a leap of faith -- the Phillies haven't yet done anything to shake last summer's incriminating statistics.

That doesn't mean they won't, of course, and -- even more encouraging -- they may not have to. The Phillies won the NL East even with the division's worst bullpen last season, so there's no reason to think they can't do it again. But the signing of Romero is the first step toward ensuring that they won't need to try.

"I'm excited and looking forward to next season and hopefully we come out and defend our NL East title the way I know we can," Romero said. "The nucleus has remained the same, and we added the right pieces. We need to go out and do what everyone expects us to do, which is win a World Series."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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