Where do the Reds stand in relation to their payroll target for 2015? Only those on the inside really know, of course. It depends entirely on the magic number CEO Bob Castellini whispered to general manager Walt Jocketty. Nothing more.

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reported that teams know the Reds have to trim payroll and that $17 million was the current estimate of the amount.

That information has many Reds fans hearts atwitter. But it’s deeply misleading to imply the Reds have to trim $17 million off their current payroll, with no room for new players.

The Reds payroll situation is largely straight-forward and known. If you add up the eleven guaranteed contracts and the buyouts you get around $82 million. Projected arbitration settlements for seven players add up to about $41 million. Add seven pre-arbitration guys as roster filler for $4 million.

That gets you to $127 million. (It’s worth noting that the Reds may not budget the two buyouts as part of this fiscal year.)

The notion that $127 million is $17 million above the number CEO Bob Castellini jotted down on a napkin for general manager Walt Jocketty is absurd. Castellini increased the Reds payroll from $87 million in 2012 to $114 million in 2014. Further, the Reds were apparently willing to go above that latter number at last season’s trade deadline.

Is it possible the new budget is $110 million? Sure. But why would the Reds CEO cut payroll in a year when he’s hosting the All-Star Game and resisting a rebuilding effort?

More likely, the recent payroll increases are just the first two installments of planned, steady increases for the next few seasons. The Reds continue to enjoy expanding revenue streams and face the happy prospect of renegotiating their local TV contract in the near future.

In late September, I estimated the Reds payroll would to continue to increase, possibly up to $130 million in 2015. John Fay, Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, recently guessed $125 million.

Take those as, ahem, ballpark figures. The Reds are right around that with their current roster. That means, as I wrote in September: The Reds can afford their current roster, but barely. It’s a good thing they dumped Jonathan Broxton’s $9 million salary (thanks Milwaukee). And a major new expenditure on a left fielder is unlikely without a compensating trade. I don’t perceive any material changes in that situation have taken place in the past two months.

In one sense, it’s right to say that the Reds are looking to “trim payroll,” because they need to offload payroll to take on a new hitter. Walt Jocketty said as much at the winter meetings. Hasn’t the conventional wisdom been that the Reds needed to trade pitching for hitting?

The Reds are, indeed, in a tight financial spot in 2015.

But those who blame that on the Votto, Bailey and Phillips contracts are off-target. Votto is making $14 million in 2015, which is $3 million less than he earned two years ago. He’ll likely be worth many, many, many times that amount this year. Bailey, likewise, is only earning $10 million this season, less than one million more than what he would have earned in arbitration in 2014. He will probably be worth twice that this year. There isn’t a team in baseball who wouldn’t pay $14 million to Joey Votto this year or $10 million to Homer Bailey. Even with his injuries and continuing decline last year, BP was worth his $12 million contract.

One might reasonably judge those three contracts as bad signings, but their real financial impact is a few years off. They aren’t the primary factor driving the 2015 budget tightness.

The real cause of the squeeze is the roster reaching a point of maturity where many players are receiving sizable raises. The Reds will spend more than $40 million on their starting rotation. Every player in their infield has reached arbitration status, or has a guaranteed contract.

The Reds payroll is high because they have a lot of pretty good players. And they’ve been reluctant to turn the roster over a bit with far-sighted and unpopular trades.