"It's been a little tough this offseason, wondering where we were going to end up," Romero said on his cell phone late yesterday afternoon. "But things happen for a reason, and we feel very comfortable with the situation here."
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said that even while the Phillies' baseball people were evaluating all their options, they never closed the door on Romero.
"We had discussions pretty much from the beginning of the offseason," he said. "But that's just part of negotiations."
Romero said he was aware that he still could end up back with the Phillies. "But after I heard that they had reached agreement with Reyes, that's the only time I thought we might have to start looking in a different direction," he said. "But my agent said don't do anything right away.
"This is a win-win situation for me. I want to come back and be part of something special. At this time of my career, comfort means a lot. We weren't detached from the Phillies yet, so I'm glad everything worked out."
Romero was released by the Red Sox in 2007 and had a 1.24 earned run average in 51 appearances after joining the Phillies. And he had a 2.75 earned run average in 81 games in 2008.
However, he missed the first 50 games of the 2009 season after being suspended for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy - a charge he denies - and then developed elbow problems that resulted in surgery. Over the last two seasons, his ERA rose to 3.38 and he walked 42 in 53 1/3 innings. Despite that, he held lefthanders to a .217 batting average and .277 slugging percentage last season.
"Obviously, we're hoping he'll be closer to the J.C. of '08 than of the last 2 years," Amaro said. "But we saw some signs late in the season that he was starting to come back. We think most of his problems were health-related, and now he's more than a year removed from the surgery."
There had been recent speculation that the Phillies might be close to bringing back another holdover, righthander Chad Durbin, who was also allowed to become a free agent at the end of the season. However, there is a strong likelihood that the Romero signing will end those negotiations.
If the Phillies carry seven relievers, five of the spots are now spoken for: closer Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez and Romero as the lone lefthander. The remaining openings could be up for grabs from a group including righthanders Scott Mathieson, Vance Worley and David Herndon and lefthanders Antonio Bastardo, Mike Zagurski and Sergio Escalona.
"There's still an opportunity for some people to compete," Amaro said. "I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what happens with the bullpen, the bench and rightfield. As we stand right now, I feel pretty comfortable. I don't like to see all 25 spots locked up heading into spring training."
The Phillies still have to make a move before they can officially add J.C. Romero to the 40-man roster . . . Top prospects Domonic Brown, Vance Worley and J.C. Ramirez are taking part in MLB's annual Rookie Career Development Program that began yesterday in Virginia . . . It was announced yesterday that seven more players will be in spring-training camp as nonroster invitees: righthanders Brian Bass, Michael Schwimer and Michael Stutes, catchers Tuffy Gosewisch and Joel Naughton, infielder Robb Quinlan and infielder-outfielder Delwyn Young.