No, it's a valid question. Millwood, 10-9 with a 3.77 ERA, has pitched 172 innings over 27 starts this season. If he pitches eight more innings, then his contract is guaranteed for $12 million in 2010. If Millwood pitches less than 180 innings this season, then the Rangers have the option of voiding the final year of his contract.
It's their choice according to the terms of the five-year, $60 million contract that Millwood agreed to in the winter of 2005-06.
But for the Rangers to retain that right, they would have to take Millwood out of the rotation after Friday's start.
"That's not going to happen," club president Nolan Ryan said. "I would never do that to him."
Otherwise, Millwood likely has five starts left in the season.
"We don't let clauses in contracts determine who is in the starting lineup or in the rotation," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We don't make decisions like that. It hasn't even been discussed. The only thing being discussed is what can we do to get him back on track."
There was a time when taking Millwood out of the rotation for any reason would have been unthinkable. Through June 30, Millwood was 8-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 16 starts, he had pitched at least seven innings in 12 of 16 starts and the only question surrounding him was if he would be selected to the All-Star Game.
That was then, this is now. In his past 11 starts, Millwood is 2-4 with a 5.92 ERA. He has not pitched seven complete innings in any of those starts.
"It hasn't been that great, no doubt about it," Millwood said. "I still feel good. I feel like I'm right there ready to have a good game. It just hasn't happened of late."
Millwood's performance of late is hardly the only factor that might be taken into consideration. It could even be a secondary factor. The other is economics.
Owner Tom Hicks has the team up for sale. The Rangers had to borrow $15 million from Major League Baseball earlier this season. The club's financial situation is under tight scrutiny. It may be others besides the Rangers baseball people who decide that Millwood won't pitch beyond Friday.
Ryan insisted that's not the case.
"I don't believe it's anything that anybody is thinking about," Ryan said.
The original contract allowed the Rangers the option of voiding the last year if Millwood didn't pitch 540 innings in 2007-09, 360 innings in 2008-09 or 180 innings in '09. He pitched 172 2/3 innings in '07 and 168 2/3 innings in '08. It has come down to this season.
"I didn't think it would be any problem to get there," Millwood said. "It wasn't something I was thinking about."
Taking Millwood out of the rotation would be a highly-charged move at this point of the season. He remains highly respected in the clubhouse and is still considered the veteran leader of the rotation on a team that is very much in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The argument could be made that the Rangers could use the $12 million in other ways in the offseason, including re-signing outfielder Marlon Byrd or catcher Ivan Rodriguez, or pursuing other free-agent pitching. But it also may be true that the $12 million could disappear altogether from the payroll if it's not allocated to Millwood.
Such a move could also trigger a grievance from the Players Association, although Millwood has the second-highest ERA since the All-Star break of the six pitchers who have made at least two starts in that stretch. He has allowed 19 walks in his past five starts.
"I'd just like to see him more consistent in the strike zone," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "That's very uncharacteristic of him, walking so many people. If he can get more consistent in the strike zone, everything will be back to normal. Millwood can go out there and pitch without his best stuff. He just needs to pound the strike zone."
Millwood just needs to pitch eight more innings and this issue will be gone for good.