Alfonso Soriano made his much anticipated arrival today at the end of another day of soggy workouts, and raised more than a few questions when he said his surgically repaired left knee is ``maybe 80 percent or 85 percent'' strength.
As he continued to speak it became apparent he meant he's had no problems with the knee at that level of activity over the winter but won't be sure he's 100 percent until he tests the knee fully in fielding and base running this spring.
``Mentally I don't feel 100 percent,'' he said. ``But we'll see in how my knee is running in the field and doing some stuff I didn't do in the Dominican.''
He had the arthroscopic procedure in mid-September, giving him more than enough time for even a lengthy recovery.
``I said to myself and the trainer said, `Don't push too much because it's not time to push,' '' he said of his winter rehab. ``Wait till spring to push it.''
Team officials have insisted in recent weeks that Soriano has had no setbacks and is recovering fine.
The $136 million outfielder admitted today that he played through a lot of pain throughout last season and said he plans to be ready for a new start, batting somewhere in the middle of the lineup, driving in runs, not worrying about stealing bases and working with his former Texas hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, to have a big rebound season.
As for the booing that became a regular part of his life by midseason last year: ``I don't mind. When they boo, that pushes me to be a better player.''
He also said he's open to getting more rest this season, if Piniella wants that for him, but also said: ``If I feel good I don't want a day off.''
Other notes from the day:
--Still raining in Arizona, and we're expecting on and off wet weather through next weekend. Cubs sent some pitchers up the street to HoHoKam again to work in covered cages in scarce supply at Fitch Park.
--Ryan Dempster was seen handing out cash to a few teammates this morning, but the Canadian pitcher said that had nothing to do with lost bets on the U.S.-Canada hockey game Sunday night.
``I just bet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the game. That's all I did,'' he said. ``It's a lot of peanut butter [I owe]. Trying to figure out who wants crunch and who wants smooth is going to be the tough part.''
--Biggest news of the morning might have been the one that got away - with Chan Ho Park choosing the Yankees over the Cubs and agreeing to a one-year, $1.2 million deal.
Cubs looked at Park as the veteran setup guy they've been pursuing most of the winter, but also offered him a chance to start.
At a news conference Monday, Park said, ``Until last night, I was leaning toward the Cubs. ... [The Yankees'] history and championship contention resulted in me picking the Yankees.
``I wanted to play for a champion-caliber team this year again,'' Park added. ``I am not certain how much longer I will play baseball, but it will a huge experience and memory to play with the Yankees.''
The Cubs, of course, were in the playoffs two of the past three seasons and considered a contender this year. But general manager Jim Hendry didn't consider it a slight. ``The won the World Series last year, and a lot of people believe they've only made themselves better.''
Expect the Cubs at this point to let things play out over the next few weeks at camp before looking at a possible trade - or possibly staying in-house - for the bullpen spot Park might have filled.
-- In other Cubs news today, the Cubs announced the hiring of the fan liaison Jahaan Blake, a position created by new ownership. Her duties as Director of Fan Experiences are vague and expansive, but in general she (and her staff) appears to be the point person for fan questions, suggestions and complaints.
The Cubs also added Kevin Saghy to their public relations staff as a PR and Marketing Specialist.