Seventeen months and 122 Cubs losses later, the most successful general manager in Cubs history by most measures can't get away from one bitter thought when he considers his nine years in charge.

''I still look at myself harshly,'' Jim Hendry says. ''I think the day I got the job, if you'd have told me six or seven years into it that we'd have won three divisions but hadn't got to the Series, I would have thought I could have done better. I expected to be the GM when the Cubs got to the World Series .?.?.

''Sometime in that first six years we should have won.''

A full season removed from the Cubs, Hendry, 57, is heading into his second year as a special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, working primarily on scouting and player-development assignments.

A full season into a multi-year rebuilding plan under Theo Epstein, the Cubs are heading into another season of high prices, low expectations, long-term hope and short-term questions about patience.

For all the ownership-churning, payroll-slashing reasons for the Cubs' recent decline — and the Theo-as-savior sentiment that followed his hiring — it's easy to forget the franchise is just four seasons removed from the best record in the National League. And nine from having three shots at winning the one game that would have put the Cubs in that elusive World Series.

How long it'll take the Cubs to return to that competitive level, much less the World Series, was one of the most popular (and unanswered) questions at this month's Cubs Convention.