Falling Angels.

The success of a pro franchise is typically cyclical, with some organizations markedly better (or worse) than others at extending the boom periods for a healthy stretch.

I would not want to be an Angels fan right now.

Understand: I’m not burying their 2011 season yet.  But looking at the larger picture, there’s a somewhat big bag of bleak coming into view.

Jered Weaver will be a free agent after the 2012 season (when he’ll make an eight-figure salary via the arbitration process).  You’d expect he’ll test the market rather than lock up long-term before that.  He’s at least a $100 million pitcher.

Dan Haren is guaranteed through 2012 ($12.75 million) and the Angels then have to decide whether to pay him $15.5 million in 2013, or a $3.5 million buyout to cut ties.  It would stand to reason that he’d be around in 2013 if Los Angeles can’t keep Weaver – or paid to leave if the decision is made to load up for a Weaver extension.

Ervin Santana is also guaranteed through 2012 ($11.2 million) and the Angels then have to decide whether to pay him $13 million in 2013, or a $1 million buyout to move on.

They’ll be competitive as long as that trio is around, but they’re a good-not-great team even with those three at the top of their games in 2011.  And how long can they keep those three paid?

Torii Hunter: $18 million in 2012.

Vernon Wells: $21 million in 2012.  $21 million in 2013.  $21 million in 2014.

Still can’t believe the good Rangers’ fortune that the Angels didn’t spend enough to sign Adrian Beltre, which would have meant no Wells in Los Angeles, no Beltre in Texas, and, theoretically, Mike Napoli remaining an Angel.

Wells, as Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News points out, is reaching base at a clip (.233) that’s lower than any player has finished a season at in 22 years (Atlanta shortstop Andres Thomas, .228, 1989, salary of $510,000).

$21 million.  $21 million.  $21 million.

Los Angeles will finally be able to stop paying Gary Matthews Jr. and Scott Kazmir when this season ends.

Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar will be free agents after 2012.  (So will Maicer Izturis, but he’s not as big a commitment.)  Can the Angels give them long-term deals in the same off-season?

Los Angeles can try to squeeze one more productive year out of the declining Bobby Abreu, but it would cost the club $9 million to exercise the contract option to do it.  More likely: $1 million to go away.

The Angels are relatively old.  And their farm system isn’t great (though the extraordinary Mike Trout stands out).  Trout and Peter Bourjos will redefine the team, but will they be enough?

The Angels have a terrific owner and a great manager and will probably be smart enough to retrench.  But they don’t seem deep in potential difference-making prospects, and for whatever reason they’ve been hesitant to move kids for big league help since last summer’s Haren deal – their inactivity this July was shocking – so you have to wonder if GM Tony Reagins would have the go-ahead (or the stomach) to make any sort of impact trade this winter.

The last trade of any kind Reagins made was on January 21, when he sent Napoli and Frosty Rivera to Toronto for Wells, a shocking maneuver even before the Jays shipped Napoli to four days later to the Rangers, who had reportedly chased Napoli for years only to be told by the Angels that they wouldn’t consider trading him to Texas.

Napoli, as Sam Miller (Orange County Register) notes, has as many extra-base hits in 2011 (36) as Los Angeles catcher Jeff Mathis has base hits.  The other phase: You can look at the measurables (Napoli has cut down 42.1 percent of would-be basestealers) or any intangible you want, and Napoli has been a tremendous asset defensively.

With last night’s win, Texas has a 27-10 record with Napoli starting behind the plate, including eight straight and 14 of 17 since he came off the disabled list on July 3.  And, as Eric Nadel pointed out during last night’s radio broadcast, Napoli has largely been drawing the assignment of catching the Rangers’ young starters, so he’s not getting the win-loss benefit of working behind the plate when the club’s number one and number two starters, veterans C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, are on the mound.

And what a hitter that guy is.

I have no idea what Los Angeles was thinking.

Scioscia reportedly had a closed-door meeting with his team after last night’s second straight loss to the visiting Rangers, a pair of games that LA Times writer Mike DiGiovanna summed up curtly: “It’s like the varsity against the junior varsity.  The standings say both teams are in the same division, but the Angels don’t appear to be in the same league as the Texas Rangers right now.”

If I’m an Angels fan, it’s been one heck of a run, but I’m probably sensing the window closing on this winning cycle, an impressive run that’s basically lasted for nearly a decade.

And wondering if this year’s Halos club has enough of a grip to keep the thing from slamming shut on 2011 before too much longer.

==============================

CORRIGENDUM: Whoops.  Made a mistake.

Bobby Abreu’s $9 million option for 2012 vested 17 days ago.  It’s now a guaranteed commitment for the 37-year-old, having his least productive season since his rookie campaign in 1997.

 

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