Let me set the scene for you.  It was Friday afternoon.  Tim Brooks, Fire Brand’s current Cafardo mail thief, sends me an instant message.  (Actual chat transcript)

Tim:  I have a mission for you should you choose to accept it.

Chip:  Cut the crap, Tim.  What do you want?

Tim:  I need you to do me a really big favor.

Chip:  I’m serious.  Put on your freaking running shoes and get to the point.  I don’t have time to deal with your BS today.

Tim:  Ok, ok.  I need you to do the Cafardo mail bag both this week and next.  I’ve been compromised.  Nick spotted me stealing his mail last week, and now the situation is too loco.  I need to lay low for a while.

Chip:  Loco?  Seriously, you’re going with loco?

Tim:  This is serious, man!  Someone has to do it.  Do you want the job or not?

Chip:  I don’t know.  It sounds pretty dangerous.  I’d be risking my freedom by violating the restraining order he has against me.  (pauses)  Screw it.  I’ll do it.  The readers of Fire Brand deserve to read responses to Cafardo’s mail the way it’s supposed to be written.

Tim:  Thank you.  It’s so cray-cray right now, I just need a break.

Chip:  Cray-cray?  I’m done with you.  Bye.

Jose Iglesias

Let’s jump right in with Nick’s opening statements.

Hey, what happened to all of you “stop touting Jose Iglesias” readers?

Miss you guys. Seem a little quiet now. No worries, it’s a long season and I’m sure I’ll hear from you again.

While I don’t agree with making Jose Iglesias a utility player because he should be the starting shortstop (and throw away the key), at least he’s still on the team and flashing great defense.

Wow.  It didn’t even take a Nick-baiting question to get the Nick Cafardo-Jose Iglesias love fest started.  I’m not surprised though considering Iglesias has replaced Bobby V as the apple of his eye.  (Not judging…ok, maybe a little.)

Still, I’m not surprised that the anti-Iglesias crowd has stopped writing into the mailbag.  Iglesias has a higher batting average than everyone right now.  Is it going to last?  Good god, no.  Even Ted Williams couldn’t keep up that pace.  It’s fun/frustrating to watch though, depending on your point of view.  Enjoy it while you can though.  That .507 BABIP won’t last forever.

Drew could become a trade chip. On June 15, he’s eligible to be traded. Doubt the Red sox do anything that drastic this early. But there are a few teams out there who would love either Drew or Iglesias.

Nope.  Sorry.  Nick has been bringing up this fact nearly every week (in some format) since Spring Training.  It’s pretty clear that he has an agenda he’s trying to push.  I don’t mean to say that he has something to gain by it, but it’s getting annoying.  He needs to report the news more, and create the news less.  That’s what he’s doing with this remark.  The Baltimore Orioles radio booth even mentioned that the Boston media has been hearing rumors of an upcoming trade involving Stephen Drew.  I wonder who wrote about that…

Now onto the questions!

The Red Sox look like a team with one ace, a very good offense, and four average starting pitchers. I think a lot of teams would kill for this, and it’s not bad for a rebuilding year, but I have a hard time being confident about the playoffs. Do you think this is a valid concern? And if so, what could a team that doesn’t want to shed any prospects really do?

You’re right.  A lot of teams would kill for a roster like the Red Sox right now.  Before I hit your primary questions though, I want to address the “four average starting pitchers.”  I wouldn’t call Jon Lester average just yet.  There’s no reason to believe Lester’s last six starts are any more indicative of his first ten.  Over his last six starts, three of them were pretty solid. Two of those three would have looked even better if Farrell hadn’t left him out an inning too long.  Even yesterday’s start had some positive aspects.  Eight strikes, no walks, and 22 swinging strikes (his highest total since 9/17/2011) are all things that indicate the tide could be ready to turn.

To answer you question directly, I wouldn’t worry about the playoffs just yet.  I certainly understand the apprehension, but the team we have now probably won’t be the team we have in late September.  Let’s wait until after the July 31st deadline before deciding if it’s time to be concerned.

If the Red Sox do make a trade though, they’re going to have to trade away prospects and/or young major leaguers with upside.  Cherington is deliberate, but he’s not a statue.  He’ll weigh the costs and benefits before triggering a deal.  One thing that help is the farm system is stacked with promising pitching in the upper levels of the system.  That kind of surplus makes it easier to trade prospects away.

Injuries aside, who has been the Red Sox biggest disappointment so far?

Aside from injures, I’d say Will Middlebrooks (who Cafardo mentions) and Felix Doubront.  Some would say (me) that there were red flags with Middlebrooks all along.  He tends to be overly aggressive, which leads to too many strikeouts and too few walks.  I don’t want you to think that I’m saying his aggressive nature will always work against him.  I think we all saw last year how it can work for him.  This year, it’s a different story.  The balls he puts into play keep finding their way into gloves.

Part of his struggles may be bad luck.  His .231 BABIP is 104 points lower than last season despite hitting only slightly fewer groundballs and line drives.  He is hitting more fly balls (which hurts), but he’s hitting fewer pop ups.  Based on this information, we should have expected his BABIP to drop somewhat, but not 104 points.

With Doubront, his disappointment stems from the fact he hasn’t taken that next step forward.  He’s the same pitcher he was last year.  He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and shades of Dice-K–frequently in the same game.  Until he can take that next step, questions will remain about whether he’d be better used in the rotation or out of the pen.

I know the team is paying Drew a lot of money, but with Iglesias on fire and Middlebrooks coming back, is there a chance he’ll sit and ‘rest’ so the kids can play?

I understand to an extent why fans would want Iglesias to play, but I don’t understand the fascination of wanting Middlebrooks to play over Stephen Drew.  Drew is playing better than WMB in pretty much every category–in some cases, by a lot.  The only area where Drew isn’t performing well is batting average, but he more than makes up for it in OBP.  Defensively, Drew has blow WMB away while playing a tougher position.

If you want to make the argument that Drew should move to third, so Iglesias can play short, I get that.  (Even though Iglesias will soon show that he can’t hit.)  Drew has played beautifully at short, but Iglesias is definitely the more talented of the two.  Making the argument that Middlebrooks should play over Drew is nothing more than an exercise in bias.

What do you think are the chances Clay Buchholz starts the All-Star game?

Good, but not great.  Had he not suffered through these bizarre AC joint and neck injuries, I would have said yes.  Now, it’s 50/50 at best.  Personally, I’d prefer he get selected, but sit out.

If the Phillies make Jonathan Papelbon available, can you see the Red Sox make an aggressive bid for him and what players could the Sox move for Papelbon?

No.   They didn’t even make a single bid for him when he was a free agent after the 2011 season.  At that point, it was just money.  Now, it’s taking on salary AND giving up prospects.  Right now, we have a closer.  His name is Andrew Bailey.  I realize you guys might not think he’s good, but he is.  Armed with a 2.95 ERA and a 30/9 K/BB in 21 innings, he is more than capable of closing.

Like the Drew rumor though, this is more Cafardo news manufacturing. He was vocally against the club letting Papelbon leave two years ago, and he’s stated on multiple times that he doesn’t know if Bailey can handle the closer duties.  This, like Bobby V and Jose Iglesias, is just another axe he’s choosing to grind down to the nub.

As for who the Red Sox would trade for Papelbon, I can’t answer that question.  It’s a scenario that makes little sense for the Red Sox both at the moment and in the future.

With the Sox looking for relievers, one who seems to be having a good year in Pawtucket is Ryan Rowland-Smith. He is 3-0 with an ERA of.76 and a 29/9 SO to BB ratio. He is not on the 40-man roster, so what’s the scoop?

Right now the 40-man roster’s full, and the only way to add a player to the roster is by removing someone else.  While Rowland-Smith is pitching very well, no one else on the roster has deemed themselves worthy of being designated for assignment yet.

Why is it that catchers, who see thousands of pitches and motions, are not better hitters?

Catcher is an incredibly demanding defensive position.  While they might see thousands of pitches and motions, most are primarily focused on mastering the arts of calling pitches, framing pitches, blocking pitches in the dirt, throwing out base stealers, etc.  Hitting, to them, comes secondary.  As far as seeing pitches and how that should make them a better hitter, I’m not sure that works.  Keep in mind that when the catcher is receiving pitches, he’s seeing it from a much different angle than what he sees at the plate.

Would the Red Sox ever bring up Juan Carlos Linares to the major leagues? What are his stats?

Will they ever bring him up?  Maybe.  This year?  No.  There are too many outfielders in front of him for that to happen.  Plus, he was already demoted from Pawtucket to Portland.  His stat line on the year is .217/.320/.331 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 181 plate appearances.

What is your assessment of Mike Napoli so far and is there any help at first base down on the farm?

I think he’s been great.   He’s exactly the player we hoped we were getting before we found out he had a degenerative hip condition.  Plus, he’s been better than expected defensively at first base.  Has he been a world beater?  No.  But he’s been more than adequate.

As far as the farm is concerned (Nick ignored this part entirely), the answer is there isn’t much.  There’s the Brandon Snyder/Drew Sutton quad-A combo in Pawtucket.   Travis Shaw looked good last year, but he seems to be doing his best Lars Anderson impression in Portland.  David Renfroe in Salem used to seem promising, but that was a long time ago.  Now, he’s just filler.  Greenville is, well, Greenville.  Other than Mookie Betts at second, there’s nothing to see in that lineup.

One name to consider is Michael Almanzar.  He’s primarily a third baseman in Pawtucket now, but there’s a blockade on the left side of the infield right now.   He could move across the diamond to first.  That’s about it though.

Jon Lester doesn’t seem prone to awkward and bizarre injuries like Clay Buchholz. Do you think weight training to build Buchholz up might eliminate these nagging problems without altering his effectiveness?

Really good question, but I’m not really sure.   He’s added bulk a couple of times over the years, and it seems to have helped.   Still, I’d be worried about adding too much more.  Additional weight can affect pitching mechanics, and could result in either poor performance or additional injuries.  With his super lean body type, I’d suggest staying away from too much weight training.