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Nationals owner: Team payroll 'beyond topped out'

Stuck with a bad TV deal, the Nationals have maxed out the money they are currently able to spend on players.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner stated the club does not have enough room in its payroll to add salary during the season, according to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore.

Lerner also indicated the Nationals would have to be cautious with future payrolls, saying "We're beyond tapped out. Our payroll has skyrocketed to, like, $140 million. It's in the papers. I don't think we can go much further with the revenue streams we have."

Per Kilgore's report, Washington enters the 2014 season with a $134.7 million payroll, which ranks ninth in the majors and is an increase of about $25 million from their figure in 2013 and another $50 million from their 2012 payroll. In late March, Forbes magazine estimated the franchise's value to be $700 million, and despite expecting to compete for a division title in the NL East this season, the Nationals are having problems competing financially with the wealthier clubs in Major League Baseball.

One of the franchise's biggest problems in generating revenue is its current TV contract with MASN, which the Nationals jointly own with the Orioles. Washington's ownership group has been striving to increase the money they receive from the network, but have made little headway in talks with Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

In an era when major league clubs are signing lucrative TV contracts, the Nationals are being outpaced thanks to their current deal with MASN.

Asked how this payroll situation will affect the team's future spending, Lerner told reporters:

We take it one at a time. We'll look at it after the season as far as what we can do. We went into this thing, it's a business. We've got to run it smartly. We're not going to do something where we're losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Anybody can understand that. We're going to be smart.

The club's biggest contract for a player currently belongs to Jayson Werth, who is set to be paid $20 million in 2014 and $21 million in the three years after this season through 2017. Werth initially signed a seven-year, $126 million deal prior to 2011.

Beyond Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, however, the Nationals roster is comprised mostly of a number of young players who make up the team's core. Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper are all marching closer toward the end of arbitration, and it remains to be seen how many of these young players the Nationals can lock up for the long-term.

In many ways, the Nationals current financial situation is similar to what the Atlanta Braves faced prior to extending four of their younger players this past offseason. The Braves, too, are stuck with a poor TV deal, but the projected increase in revenue from the club's new stadium in Cobb County allowed Atlanta to spend more freely in the winter.

Whether the Nationals will be able to do the same, especially with franchise cornerstones like Strasburg and Harper, is unknown. For the time being, at least, Washington won't have much room to add to their budget in the season ahead.