CHICAGO -- The first question for general manager Rick Hahn during Friday night's Town Hall Meeting at the Palmer House Hilton to start SoxFest dealt with the free-agent departure of organization icon A.J. Pierzynski.
That question certainly was to be expected.
It was the last question that caught the entertained but less-than-capacity crowd by surprise.
As a young man asked the panel consisting of Hahn, manager Robin Ventura and television play-by-play announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson about catching defending American League champion Detroit in 2013, the crowd began to stir, then broke into laughter. The individual asking the question seemed surprised -- until he looked behind him and saw former GM Ken Williams getting in line.
"This will be the last question," said a smiling Hahn, referring to the Tigers' question, as he saw Williams step forward.
That moment of pure levity concluded a relatively low-key first question-and-answer session for Hahn as the team's GM. The crowd seemingly was held down by autograph sessions with Paul Konerko and Joe Crede basically going on simultaneously, and an autograph session with Chris Sale taking place just after its conclusion.
Nonetheless, there were good points made and valid concerns addressed.
Hahn tackled the opening Pierzynski question in the same way he has for most of the past month: The White Sox felt confident in Tyler Flowers taking over as the everyday catcher, and they felt less confident in the options behind Jake Peavy and at third base.
Basically, they allocated those funds to bring back Peavy via a two-year, $29 million deal and add free agent Jeff Keppinger through a three-year, $12 million deal.
"Fundamentally, all of us in my department -- or our department -- are fans, so we understand a reaction to a move or a lack of a move," said Hahn of the Pierzynski decision when he addressed the media before the opening ceremonies. "The perfect example is a decision not to bring back A.J.
"All of us react to that on a fan level. All the guys from '05 hold a special place in our heart. I got excited last year to see Cliff Politte or talk to Neal Cotts. All those guys will always have a special spot for each of us, not to mention a guy like A.J., who was with us for eight years and had a tremendous amount of success.
"Ultimately, it's on us to do what we feel like is the best in terms of maximizing wins over a longer period of time, [not] responding emotionally or with sentimentality. It's something we are aware of, but it's not something that drives decision-making as much as what we feel will maximize our wins."
Other moments from the seminar included a question for Ventura about feeling more comfortable in his second year at the helm, Harrelson's praise of the way Ventura ran his first Spring Training and a question for Hahn about developing that elusive left-handed hitter from within the system, referencing fast-rising middle-infield prospect Carlos Sanchez. There also was one mildly perturbed fan asking why Zach Stewart, who was shipped to Boston as part of the Kevin Youkilis deal after struggling with the White Sox, was brought back as a recent waiver claim.
For $20,000, as Hahn explained, the White Sox were able to address their rotation depth at Triple-A Charlotte with Stewart. It's an important factor in case of injuries at the big league level, with the right-handed-hurling Stewart having Major League experience not possessed by such higher-rated prospects as Simon Castro and Nestor Molina.
One fan praised Hahn for being the Konerko of the front office, meaning Hahn passed on chances to run other teams to stay with the White Sox. Hahn admitted that he never thought of becoming White Sox GM when he started 13 years ago, believing that it wasn't a good practice to aspire to your boss' job.
Now he can't think of any other GM job he would want.
As for the question from arguably the most successful GM in White Sox history, Williams was succinct.
"One word answer: Will you do better or worse than the person who previously held this job?" Williams asked.
Without missing a beat, Hahn responded, "That's not a fair question. He had a better support staff."
Of course, Hahn was Williams' assistant GM. Now he's the man in the hot seat, although it was really lukewarm on Friday.