by Russell Preston/KHTK Sacramento

Matt Cain of today is not the same Matt Cain of 2012.

While the same can pretty much be said about every player in the MLB, Cain has seen a decline trending since his sixth place Cy Young finish in 2012. Sure, his fall started with injuries in his throwing arm, but isn’t that almost always the case?

The San Francisco Giants have one of the league’s best 1-2-3 punch in their starting rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Following that is an off-and-on Jake Peavy who’s not a bad No. 4 starter.

Cain has been the troubled one out of the five, as he has constantly been slumping, injuring and rehabbing since the end of 2013. This season, his 12 starts have produced just 4 wins for the Giants and he has made it past the 6th inning just twice.

Nicknamed “The Horse,” Cain once had a reputation of an innings-eater. He posted more than 200 innings in six-straight seasons from 2007-2013, but hasn’t done it since.

In his last three starts, Cain’s gone a total of 7 2/3 innings while giving up three home runs, 9 earned runs, six walks and just four strikeouts. With an already ailing bullpen, can the Giants afford to send out Cain every fifth game not knowing if he will make it past the fourth inning?

I don’t think so.

In a perfect world, the Giants could cut him from the team for free and it’ll be over – both parties could move on to greener pastures. Unfortunately for the Giants, they don’t quite have that luxury.

Cain is owed $21 million this year, $21 million next year and has a $7.5 million buyout for 2018. If the Giants wait until the offseason to cut him, they would be writing him a $38.5 million check to play somewhere else. I don’t see the Giants front office going through with that.

So what do the Giants do with him? His “stuff” isn’t explosive like it once was, his ability to locate his pitches has been a concern (see: Hanley Ramirez in Wednesday’s game) and he has been in a rehab/injury limbo for years now.

Long relief is an option, but it’ll be bizarre to pay a man $21 million to pitch garbage time from out of the bullpen. Plus, his stamina has been shaky for  while now.

They could go the Tim Lincecum route of putting him in the bullpen, but in a more important role. That worked in the 2012 and 2014 postseasons when Lincecum lost his “stuff.”

Cain has a 3.75 ERA in the first inning this year compared to his overall ERA of 5.88 – it’s possible he can still be an effective pitcher if used sparingly.

The fact is, the Giants have a hole in their bullpen – preferably a left-handed pitcher such as Jeremy Affeldt. They are looking for trade partners in order to fill that void, but could Cain step in, say, Albert Suarez’s spot and perform? Maybe.

The Giants also have a few decent pitching prospects not far from making their MLB debut, so filling in that fifth starter spot with a rookie could be a good way to take them out for a test drive.

Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Chris Heston look ready to jump to the MLB as they all pitch in Triple-A Sacramento, while younger prospects such as Tyler Beede and Phil Bickford are making strides in the lower levels.

The Giants need to make a decision on Cain sooner rather than later. After all, it is an even year.

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