Where does the Nationals' payroll stand at this point?

With one really expensive re-signing of one of the staff aces along with several calculated re-signings or additions of role players to fill the holes in their roster, the Nationals have been one of the most active teams across baseball so far this winter.

They're not done, of course, because they still seek a replacement for Anthony Rendon at third base, they still need a first baseman (or two) and they could still use at least one more reliable arm to strengthen a bullpen that's better but not completely fixed.

The question is, how much money do they still have in their pockets to spend before pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach five weeks from now?

That's a loaded question, because the simple answer is that the Nationals have as much money left to spend as they want. There's no limit, because Major League Baseball has no salary cap, and because the Lerner family is one of the sport's richest ownership groups.

If only it was that simple.

MLB may not have a salary cap, but it does have the luxury tax, and that always has to be part of this discussion. The Nationals went over the tax threshold in 2017 and 2018, then (barely) got back under the total in 2019 while winning the World Series.

That was an important development, because it allowed them to reset their status and make the penalty for exceeding the $208 million threshold in 2020 minimal. First-time offenders are penalized a 20 percent tax on any overages. (So if the Nationals season-ending payroll wound up $210 million, they'd only be taxed an extra $400,000.)

The organization has given no firm indication to date about its willingness to exceed the threshold this year. The reasoned suspicion is that the Lerner family would prefer to keep payroll under the magic $208 million mark, while at the same time leaving the door slightly ajar in case a particular player was available that everyone deemed worth incurring the penalty.

A player, perhaps, like Josh Donaldson. If it's true that Donaldson's next contract (whether from the Nationals, Braves, Twins, Rangers or Dodgers) is going to exceed $100 million over four years, his acquisition alone would almost certainly catapult the Nats' payroll into luxury tax territory.

Here's how we think we know that. (None of this is 100 percent accurate, because a team's actual payroll isn't known until the season ends, given the roster fluctuations that occur along the way.) But based on info published on two well-established websites that track salaries and payrolls (Cot's Contracts and Spotrac), here's how the Nationals' payroll looks for the moment ...

Strasburg-Celebrates-K-Blue-NLCS-Sidebar.jpgFourteen players are already signed with set salaries for 2020. Here they are (these are the figures used for calculating the luxury tax, not necessarily the actual money each player will earn this year): Stephen Strasburg ($35 million), Max Scherzer ($28,689,376), Patrick Corbin ($23,333,333), Aníbal Sánchez ($9.5 million), Adam Eaton ($9.5 million), Will Harris ($8 million), Sean Doolittle ($6.5 million), Howie Kendrick ($6.25 million), Starlin Castro ($6 million), Kurt Suzuki ($5 million), Yan Gomes ($5 million), Asdrubal Cabrera ($2.5 million), Hunter Strickland ($1.6 million) and Wilmer Difo ($1 million).

So that's a total of $147,872,709 guaranteed to those 14 players.

Another four players are arbitration-eligible and don't have set salaries yet. (Friday is the deadline for teams and players to either agree to terms or file for arbitration.) Here, though, is a rough estimate for each of those four: Trea Turner ($7.5 million), Michael A. Taylor ($3.25 million), Roenis Elias ($1.9 million), Joe Ross ($1.4 million).

So that's another $14.05 million, bringing the grand total up to $161,922,709.

The final eight spots on the active roster, for now, would go to players who have fewer than three years' big league service time and will make the league minimum salary ($563,500) or slightly more. We'll give those eight spots (again, for now) to Erick Fedde, Tanner Rainey, Victor Robles, Adrián Sanchez, Juan Soto, Andrew Stevenson, Wander Suero and Austin Voth. Collectively they'll make roughly $4.6 million, bringing the grand total up to $166,522,709.

Which seems to give the Nationals plenty of room left for Donaldson and others, right? Not quite. There's one more component to the luxury tax payroll calculation: "player benefits," which Spotrac projects for each team as $15 million. So that brings the final total up to $181,522,709.

Still with us? Good. As noted earlier, the Nats still need at least one first baseman, possibly two. Let's say they re-sign Ryan Zimmerman for $5 million and Matt Adams for $3 million. And let's say they add one more veteran reliever for $3 million. That's another $11 million combined, making the grand total $192,522,709.

Which leaves only $15,477,291 of space remaining, not enough to sign Donaldson and stay under the luxury tax threshold.

Again, this is all very rough math and shouldn't be taken as gospel. There are several presumptions involved in this exercise, and there are other moves involving other players that could be made to dramatically impact the grand total.

But if the ultimate question here is whether the Nationals can sign Donaldson and stay under the luxury tax in 2020, the answer is: probably not.

As so often has been the case in recent years, it's up to the Lerner family to decide if it's willing to go over the threshold and pay the penalty in order to acquire another big name player.

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