No one expected the world when the Phillies signed lefthander J.C. Romero to a minor-league contract on June 23, five days after the Boston Red Sox had released him.

But Romero became an off-season priority after he went 1-2 with a 1.24 earned run average in 51 appearances. The reliever was a key piece of the Phillies' second-half surge as they won the National League East for the first time since 1993.

The Phillies said last night that they had come to terms with Romero on a three-year, $12 million contract. It includes a club option for 2011 that could increase the value of the contract to $16.75 million. The agreement also keeps Romero off the free-agent market, which opens Tuesday.

"I'm glad I didn't have to go out and test the free-agent market," Romero, 30, said in a statement. "I had a great time with the Phillies and really wanted to come back."

The Phillies seem to have solidified their pitching staff considerably in the last few days. They acquired closer Brad Lidge in a trade with Houston on Wednesday, allowing them to return Brett Myers to the rotation. Lidge and Romero will join Tom Gordon and Ryan Madson in the back of the bullpen.

"We've said it's all about pitching depth," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said by telephone last night. "And if we can continue to build on that, it certainly helps. We can't stop there. We have to continue to build depth."

The Phils still hope to add another starter to a rotation that includes Myers, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton.

And after that?

Amaro said the Phillies also would like to add an outfielder after trading Michael Bourn to Houston and most likely losing Aaron Rowand to free agency.

Rowand is expected to command a lucrative multiyear contract on the open market. Budget-wise, the Phillies would rather invest in pitching - their 4.73 ERA last season was the second-worst among playoff teams in NL history - believing they have enough offensive punch with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and others to withstand a potential loss of Rowand.

"We're still keeping an eye on Aaron, but I'm not sure he's a realistic piece for us right now," Amaro said. "If we're not in a position to bring back Aaron or someone of that ilk, we'll be looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder."