It was a torrid summer afternoon in North Carolina when I arrived to Truist Field in downtown Charlotte, home of the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate. After meeting with the Knights’ media team, I made the trek to field level to assess the angles and shooting positions I’d be employing throughout the night.
Unbeknownst to me, I’d be greeted by the sight of my favorite White Sox prospect, tossing warmup pitches as he prepared to start the game that same evening.
Cristian Mena, 20, would be making his home debut in Knights pinstripes following a promotion to Triple-A just one week prior. Originally signed as a 16-year-old in 2019 for a modest $250,000, Mena wouldn’t make his professional debut until two years later due to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. In 13 games (12 starts) in the Arizona Complex League in 2021, Mena posted a gaudy 11.5 K/9 and 27% strikeout rate in 48 1⁄3 innings. While his 7.82 ERA was unflattering to say the least, Mena’s 5.42 FIP and unsustainably-high .442 BABIP pointed to Lady Luck unfairly influencing his results. White Sox player development recognized this and promoted him to Low-A the following year despite underwhelming surface-level statistics.
In 2022, Mena would rapidly ascend to top prospect status in the middling White Sox farm system, leaping three levels to Double-A during his age-19 season. Despite being nearly six years younger than the average player in Birmingham when he made his debut, Mena continued to post promising strikeout numbers as a starter. Birmingham Barons pitching coach Danny Farquhar, who is no stranger to racking up K’s himself, told The Athletic that Mena was “like a sponge,” eager to soak up knowledge to improve his performances on mound and receptive to new ideas, concepts, and pitch grips.
Armed with a slider grip learned from Farquhar, Mena began 2023 season back in Birmingham and posted the consistently high K numbers that the organization had been accustomed to, only with an approach and sense of poise that merited a late-season call to Triple-A, where I got to see him last September.
Unfortunately, when Mena does make his major league debut, it won’t be with the Pale Hose: Mena was traded midday Saturday to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for 26-year-old rookie outfielder Dominic Fletcher. While there are arguments to be made for and against this trade given the lack of offensive production that has come from the White Sox corner outfield spots in recent years and Mena’s relative lack of polish (albeit at such a young age), there is no question that the move didn’t sit well with folks like me who have been following his career with auspicious anticipation.
Let’s take a look at some initial reactions on the bird app:
First, from my favorite baseball Youtuber.
The Gregory Santos one is weird but alright. The Dominic Fletcher for Cristian Mena deal is atrocious to me.— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) February 4, 2024
Then, from Serpientes Twitter.
If you want an idea about how Diamondbacks fans viewed Dominic Fletcher, take a look at the DBacks Twitter page.— All Things Chicago Sports (@things_sox) February 3, 2024
At best, it’s apathy. At worst, they are celebrating the trade. We basically gave away Cristian Mena pic.twitter.com/pnCJbAad6r
Finally, from ... uh ... “Bartolo’s Colonoscopy” ???
WHY DID THEY TRADE CRISTIAN MENA— Bartolo's Colonoscopy (@lakeview487) February 3, 2024
An understandable reaction from the invasive medical procedure here.
While I typically leave little room in my writing for sentiment, there is no question that this trade stings worse than I’d like to admit. For me, Mena will forever be the pitcher who started my first Knights game, on my first trip to Charlotte, while I was wearing my first Triple-A media pass. But as they say, and as White Sox fans have heard far too often with the preventable departures of franchise legends like José Abreu and Frank Thomas, “it’s a business.”
I hope one day people who view the game of baseball through a practical lens devoid of emotion realize just how little consolation the colloquialism that serves as the title of this article brings. It may well be a business, but it is emotion that fuels fans’ devotion to such a tumultuous and exciting game. In the words of immortal James Spader character Alan Shore, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to say, ‘it’s a business.’ ”