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Murph: Will Matt Cain earn a spot on the Giants’ 25-man roster?



Matt Cain pitches for the Giants Friday night in the Cactus League.

Yeah, you’re thinking, so what? It’s St. Patrick’s Day and you’ve got some reveling to do and some March Madness brackets to follow and plus you’re hoping Steph Curry gets out of his shooting slump and you might go hiking this weekend because the weather is nice and, yeah, who cares? It’s spring training, right?

All of the above is true (and if you’re going hiking, may I suggest the Oakland hills? Lovely and green, for sure), but so is this: For Matt Cain, it’s not just “spring training” anymore.

It’s time to prove he belongs on the 2017 Giants.

Because even though he is guaranteed $21 million this year — and a $7.5 million buyout next year, too — there is no guarantee he will earn that money on the Giants’ 25-man roster.

Bobby Evans, the Giants’ general manager, said as much on ‘Gary & Larry’ this week. If you missed it, phrases like, “Yeah, I just don’t know” and “hard to classify” and “getting hit hard” were the foundational phrases of Evans’ answers about Cain’s future. Evans summed it up by telling the gents, “we need to see how the spring finishes.”

Wow. Rarely does the Giants’ soft-spoken GM — remember his “we didn’t get the rose” line when Pablo Sandoval signed with Boston? — been so blunt in the media. Clearly, expectations are being set.

And under any measure, Cain has not met expectations for almost four years now.

Take the 2014-2015-2016 seasons combined. In none of those campaigns did Cain toss even 100 innings for the Giants. If you combine the three lost seasons, he posted an ERA of 5.13. In 2015 and 2016, his WHIP was north of 1.50. Not that Cactus League stats are gold-plated digits, but his 7.71 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in Scottsdale has no one, most of all Cain himself, feeling awesome.

The Giants, incredibly to those of us who remember the days of 3,300 fans at Candlestick Park, have one of the top-5 payrolls in baseball. They can actually eat Cain’s $21 million salary and not have it dramatically affect the team in a negative way. Surely, they’d have loved to have that money in the offseason to spend on other talents, but the larger point is, it’s not a stranglehold on the organization that prevented them from signing Mark Melancon; or last year, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzjia and Denard Span.

So the money, while painful, is not a yoke that ties them to Cain.

Potential successor Ty Blach hasn’t dominated the spring either (6.23 ERA), but the memories of him out-dueling Clayton Kershaw in Game 161 last year far outweigh his Cactus League stats. He’s 26 years old. He’d cost essentially nothing. And behind him, top prospect Tyler Beede awaits, too.

So the Giants have options beyond Matt Cain. They’d love to see the 32-year-old (Cain is only 32! After all these years!) use the final two weeks of spring training to turn the screws, rediscover location, channel a competitive fire and start getting hitters out consistently.

There’s still time.

Maybe. Just not very much of it. Starting Friday night.