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1969 Predictions

American League

EAST

WEST

Detroit

Oakland

Boston

Minnesota

Baltimore

California

New York

Chicago

Cleveland

Seattle

Washington

Kansas City

National League

EAST

WEST

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Chicago

Atlanta

Philadelphia

San Francisco

Pittsburgh

Los Angeles

Montreal

Houston

New York

San Diego

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EASTERN DIVISION

DETROIT stood pat, which isn't a bad idea for a winning hand. The Tigers lost only one regular - SS Ray Oyler - but he was expendible as lefty Tom Matchick seems to be a more suitable replacement for Tiger Stadium. Pitching is one of the Tiger strong points and manager Mayo Smith as three strong starters in Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, and Earl Wilson. Detroit has the best catcher in baseball in Bill Freehan. The outfield is young and brilliant. "It's the best young outfield in the game," Mayo insists. "That's why I want to keep it intact. So Mickey Stanley will be back in center. You can forget about him playing shortstop." Smith startled all of baseball with a huge gamble in the World Series of playing Stanley at short, with Al Kaline in right and Jim Northrup shifting to center. Willie Horton is the left fielder and was 2nd in the AL with 36 homers and 4th in average with .285.

BOSTON accomplished the "impossible dream" by winning the 1967 pennant as a 100-1 shot…only to fall apart - largely due to injuries - last season. "If we have health, we have the finest nucleus of any team in the league," says manager Dick Williams. The quartet of OF Tony Conigliaro, RHP Jim Lonborg and Jose Santiago, and 1B George Scott hold the key to the health problem. Conigliaro didn’t play an inning last year after sustaining an eye injury in August, 1967. Lonborg shattered his left knee in a skiing accident in Decemeber, 1967 and didn't return to the mound until last June. He then developed arm troubles and won only six games after taking 22 in the "dream year".

BALTIMORE was hit hard in the batting blight of 1968, but their pitching staff was 2nd only fractionally to Cleveland's super staff. The O's replaced manager Hank Bauer with Earl Williams in July of last season. They made a late charge at the Tigers, but lost momentum and let the cats escape. Baltimore couldn't protect all of its stars and prospects in the expansion draft and lost pitchers Roger Nelson, Moe Drabowsky and Wally Bunker to the Royals. The loss of 3 pitchers, particuarly Nelson, caused the Birds to arrange an intra-league deal for veteran southpaw Mike Cuellar for Curt Belfary. Baltimore has front-line class but the reserves are skimpy. Success can come only if the stars who won the pennant in 1966 come back to form.

NEW YORK management is perhaps guilty of complacency, blinded by the strong finish last Septemeber. Perhaps not. They did try to make deals, but every club asked for 21 game winner, Mel Stottlemyre. So, all the Bomber bosses could do was swing minor deals. The Yanks picked up IF Nate Oliver and P Mike Kekich of the Dodgers. Among the bright spots was the development of Roy White from a confused, scatter-armed infielder to an excellent leftfielder. The Yankees do have 2 young infielders back from service, Jerry Kenney returns from a Naval tour of duty, and Bobby Murcer from the Army. New York had the lowest team batting average in the league and in their own history, a meek .214. Obviously, Ralph Houk's managing and the pitchers were the strong points which got the club to finish fifth, but still New York needs one or two more starters and relief help.

CLEVELAND had the best pitching staff in the AL and got home 3rd for its highest finish in nine years. Luis Tiant (21 wins; 1.60 ERA - lowest AL mark since Walter Johnson in 1919), Sam McDowell (1.81 ERA with AL leading 283 strikeouts), and Stan Williams (2.51 ERA) were the big men. The Tribe staff set a major league record for fewest hits allowed in a season, 1087 in 162 games. "Year of the Pitcher?" It certainly was along the shores of Lake Erie. Al Dark is a clever, resourceful manager but Cleveland's lack of power negated even its pitching brillance. Cleveland lost 75 games, 20 of them shutouts and 20 by one run. The 2 most productive batters were 1B Tom Horton (.249; 14HR; 59 RBI) and All-Star catcher Joe Azcue, who led the team in hitting with a .280 average. It should be another year of low-scoring games with the Indians neither getting or giving much.

WASHINGTON does have a new look this year but it is not on the field. The team which finished tenth last year is substantially the same but the owner is new. Robert Short, of Minneapolis, bought out James Lemon and the widow of his deceased partner for $9 million in December, 1968. The bright spot for the Nats is slugging Frank Howard. The 6-7, 260-pounder set an AL record when he belted seven homers in four consecutive games. It looked last spring that Washington would have more pitching, but only Camilo Pascual (13-12) and Jim Hannan (10-6) had winning records. The infield is unsettled. Mike Epstein comes back for another try at first, Tim Cullen, a .230 hitter, and Frank Coggins (.175) will vie for second with Bernie Allen (.241). Ed Brinkman is the shortstop by virtue of his classy glove but he hit only .187 last year. Ken McMullen (.248; 20 HR; 62 RBI), a solid citizen, fills the bill at third.

WESTERN DIVISION

OAKLAND has more good young players than any ball club in either league. It is a young team on the upgrade and needs only the honing of experience and leadership. The latter should be forcibly provided by manager Hank Bauer, the tough ex-Marine. With the exception of catcher Jim Pagliaroni, a 31 yr.old part time performer, not one of the A's is thirty. The team got younger in the expansion draft when Seattle took Diego Segui, 30, and Jack Aker, 28. The starters are a solid four: Jim "Catfish" Hunter, John "Blue Moon" Odom, Chuck Dobson, and Jim Nash. Bauer can assemble a capable relief corps from Ed Sprague, Lew Krausse, Ken Sanders, Paul Lindblad, and Tony Pierce. The A's boast a brilliant infield in Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, John Donaldson and Danny Cater. The outfield is strong and young. Mike Hershberger is 29, Rick Monday is 23, and Reggie Jackson but 22. The latter pair are on the threshold of becoming super-stars. This could be the year that the A's put it all together. They are in the weaker division of the expanded league and are favored to beat out Minnesota.

MINNESOTA's season, for all practical purposes, ended on the night of July 9th in the Astrodome when slugger Harmon Killebrew collapsed with a ruptured hamstring while playing first for the AL All-Stars. Rich Reese, his replacement, played capably but the Killer's big bat was missed. The Twins were also plagued with trouble at shortstop, which was played by six different players. Owner Calvin Griffith fired Cal Ermer as manager and replaced him with Billy Martin. More importantly, Griffith got himself a shortstop by trading Jim Merritt to Cincinnati for Leo Cardenas. The Twins were second in team batting average with .237 and had three players in the Top 11 batters: CF Ted Uhlaender (.283), RF Tony Oliva (.289), and 3B Cesar Tovar (.272). Killebrew will be back on first base, with Tovar playing 3rd or LF.

CALIFORNIA are counting heavily on two rookies from their El Paso farm. Jim Spencer, a left-handed first baseman, and Jarvis Tatum, a rabbit switchitting OF. Rick Reichardt, the $200,000 bonus outfielder, batted .255 but hit 21 HR. He has star quality. Minnie Rojas, California's relief ace, came down with a sore arm last season. In the event Rojas doesn't come around, the Halos picked up Hoyt Wilhelm selected in the expansion draft by Kansas City. Manager Bill Rigney is counting on young pitchers George Brunet, Rickey Clark, Clyde Wright, and Andy Messersmith (who worked primarly in relief last year) to perform in the starting rotation. The Angels have potential but their young hurlers will have to come through to keep them in the running.

CHICAGO's "Hitless Wonders" were the 1906 White Sox, and today's edition is in the tradition. The Sox were shutout a league-leading 23 games and lost 44 games by one run. The inability to bat, or to win, resulted in the dismissal of Eddie Stanky as manager and Al Lopez was brought out of retirement. He was taken ill, and Les Moss took over as the interim pilot. The gilt-edged pitching staff broke down under the pressure of having to pitch a shutout or a one-run game in order to have a chance to win. On Aug. 22, 1968, ace southpaw Tommy John was lost with a shoulder separation resulting from an altercation with Tigers 2B Dick McAuliffe. The White Sox' leading hitter was Tommy Davis, but the club took a chance by exposing him in the expansion draft and the Seattle Pilots took the 30 year old LF who doesn't fit in with the White Sox plans for a running club. As in the past, Chicago will go only as high as their pitchers can take them. Joe Horlen, John, and Gary Peters figure to be the starters with Wilbur Wood and Bob Locker heading up the bullpen.

SEATTLE celebrates baseball in the Pacific Northwest for the first time. GM Marvin Milkes may have drafted a club which will assert itself immediately but not stand up over the long haul. Of his first 15 picks, he chose 10 men over 27 years old. Joe Schultz, the manager, has never managed in the major leagues. Seattle may have a good pitching staff, and in fact, its bullpen will be as good or better than those of existing clubs. Milkes took Oakland's best pair of firemen, Diego Segui and Jack Aker. For starters, he has RHP Gary Bell from Boston, and ex-Yankees Steve Barber and Jim Bouton. Mike Marshall, a 25 yr-old righty out of the Tigers system registered a 15-9 mark with Toledo in the International League. The infield is long on experience and age. Former Angel Don Mincher will be at first, Ray Oyler at SS, and ex-Twin Rich Rollins at third. Second base will be decided in the spring between Chico Salmon and Tommy Harper, both ex-Indians. Harper is also a CF candidate, flanked by Tommy Davis and Jim Gosger.

KANSAS CITY has its second go-around in the AL and this time things should go better. GM Cedic Talles did not go for many "name" players in the expansion draft. Of his 30 selections, only 3 players were over 30 : IF Jerry Adair of Boston, P Moe Drabowsky of Baltimore, and Hoyt Wilhelm who was traded to California for catchers Dennis Paepke and Ed Kirkpatrick. Baltimore righty Roger Nelson was the first selection by the Royals who also grabbed prize prospect LHP Jim Rooker out of the Yankee system. The pitching stockpile continued with the selections of Tiger prospect Dick Drago and ex-Oriole Wally Bunker, who at 23 has four years of experience which includes a shutout of the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. The infield looks like Mike Fiore, Adair or Billy Harris from Cleveland, Jackie Hernandez, the ex-Twin at SS, and either Joe Foy from the Red Sox or Paul Schaal, ex-Angel, on third. None of the 6 outfielders have major league experience, but the best may be rookie Pat Kelly who hit .306 and stole 38 bases at Denver in the PCL.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EASTERN DIVISION

ST. LOUIS - It’s frightening to envision the Cardinals as a stronger club in 1969, but frankly, it's looks as though they are just that! Not only did GM Bing Devine succeed in plugging his outfield with another speedy veteran to go with Lou Brock and Curt Flood, he was able to bundle another package of surplus off to San Diego for Dave Guisti, a pitcher the Cards apparently wanted more than anyone knew. Vida Pinson, who batted above .300 four times in his 11 season with the Reds, is the new outfield playmate for Brock and Flood. Pinson takes over for the retired Roger Maris in right field, and gives the Cardinals the fastest outfield in all of baseball. First baseman Orlando Cepeda was shipped to Atlanta on St. Patrick's Day, 1969 in exchange for catcher-first baseman Joe Torre. The rest of the infield is intact with Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill and Mike Shannon at the corner. The Cardinal pitching, of course, starts with Bob Gibson. Gibson's 1968 MVP and Cy Young award campaign was breath taking. Gibson set an all-time NL record with an ERA of 1.12 that wiped out Grover Cleveland Alexander's mark of 1.22 set in 1915. Gibson hurled 47 scoreless innings, a string that was broken on a wild pitch. Guisti, 29, led the Houston staff last season in several marks while pitching 251 innings and posting a 11-14 mark with a last place ball club. Nelson Briles and Ray Washburn round out the rotation. Mike Torrez, a right handed farm hand, may make a firm bid to join the rotation.

CHICAGO moved away from their traditional stand-pat approach by acquiring Ted Aberanathy to help Phil Regan in the bullpen. Manager Leo Durocher undertakes his 4th season which a lot going for him. He has the best defensive team in the league, and good pitching anchored by Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Hands and the Regan-Abernathy tandem. It may come as a shock to some that Ken Holtzman, barely 23, is the "dean" of the Cub staff in point of service. He joined the club in late 1965 in the pre-Durocher days. LF Billy Williams, who has not missed a game in more than five seasons, wil be playing in his 820th consecutive contest on Opening Day, 1969. Durocher seems satifsfied with platoons of Willie Smith, Al Spangler, and Jim Hickman in right with Aldolfo Phillips in center. The infield is solid with Ernie Banks, whose retirement never seems to get any closer, at first, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, and Ron Santo at third. Catcher Randy Hundley is an iron man behind the plate.

PHILADELPHIA initiated their youth movement prior to the 1968 season when they traded Jim Bunning away for Woody Fryman and a promising young shortstop named Don Money. This winter they continued it by letting some of their older hands escape in the expansion draft - as the Pirates did - and opening up a quick route to the big leagues to more kids. Money, 21, and Larry Hisle, also 21, are promising Phillie farmhands. Manager Bob Skinner announced Johnny Briggs has his first sacker as the Phils were successful in prying Deron Johnson from the Braves. Johnson, who seems better suited to first, led the NL in RBI with 130 as recently as 1965 but has been in a slugging tailspin. Johnson can play third or outfield but it seems to most observers that Briggs, Johnny Callison, and Hisle provide the best outer defense, thus leaving Johnson to play third and the Phillies' most outstanding hitter, Richie Allen, to play third. Cookie Rojas, the league's top fielding shortstop, is a fixture at second with veteran Tony Taylor as a backup. Philadelphia clearly needs improvement in pitching. Fryman (12-14; 2.78), Chris Short (19-13; 2.93), and Rick Wise, who faltered in his 3rd season (9-15; 4.55) are the rotation. Meanwhile, three farmhands, Barry Lersch, Lowell Palmer, and Bill Wilson are in contention, and Bill Champion, a Carolina League star, can be expected to forge his way into the picture. 

PITTSBURGH, in the last 2 years has been losing more and enjoying it less. The Expansion Draft last October gave Pittsburgh a good chance to clean house. The Pirates were stripped of Donn Clendenon, Maury Wills, Manny Mota, and pitcher Al McBean, but three newcomers could be in the Opening Day lineup - catcher Manny Sanguillen, 3B Richie Hebner, and either Bob Robertson or Al Oliver at first. But right along with the degree of skill displayed by the rookies will be the Pirates' success in dodging that big intangible called the casualty list. Bunning, Clemente, Stargell, Mazeroski, and Alley were all hit by the injury bug last season. Pittsburgh's OF is set with Stargell, Matty Alou, and Clemente from left to right. Mazeroski and Alley are expected to be sound to return as the keystone combination. Hebner, 21, is seen as a clinch major leaguer at third. Robertson, 22, missed last season due to surgery for a kidney obstruction, but he led the Southern League's triple crown in 1966. Manager Larry Shepard says Robertson has as much power as Willie McCovey. Fred Patek and Jose Pagan will share the utility duties. In last year's pitching emergency, Steve Blass blossomed as #1 starter. Bob Veale won 13 despite some tough luck and Dock Ellis (6-5) and Bob Moose (8-12) look promising. 

MONTREAL was able to fleece existing National League rosters of enough established athletes to assemble a rather imposing and experienced "play now; pay later" baseball team. An outfield of Mack Jones, Manny Mota, and Ty Cline was not bad for a collection of outer gardeners who were found expendable. An infield of Rusty Staub, Gary Sutherland, Maury Wills, and Bob Bailey would never send a fan scrambling to "Who's Who" to search for clues of identity. Neither would a pitching staff of Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Larry Jackson, John Billingham, Larry Jaster, and catchers John Bateman and John Bocabella. Yes, there is great joy in Montreal where one of the main concerns is manager Gene Mauch's success in keeping the veteran acquistions (Wills and Jackson) from retirement. Despite the "name" infielders, Mauch is high on the chances of Jim Williams, a 25 year old defensive whiz out of the Cincinnati system, to win the shortstop job. Likewise, Jose "Coco" Laboy, .292 with 15 HR at Tulsa last season, lasted until the sixth round of the draft before he was plucked from the Cardinals - probably because he is nearing 29.

NEW YORK will likely have to depend on their fine young pitching staff to keep them out of the depths this season. That is, until such hitters as Tommie Agee, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda develop a little more consistency to go along with that of Cleon Jones and their All-Star catcher, Jerry Grote. At the head of Gil Hodges' staff is Jerry Koosman, the lefthanded Minnesota native, who was far and away the best rookie pitcher in the majors last season. Koosman flirted with being the first 20 game winner in Mets history with a 19-12 mark in 1968 with a 2.08 ERA, fourth best in the NL. Tom Seaver, 16-12 with a 2.20 ERA, will also head the Mets' brilliant staff. Three other young hurlers, none over 25, looked best in the Mets' winter plans. Jim McAndrew's emergence last season prompted the Mets' to expose Dick Selma in the expansion draft. Hodges hopes that Nolan Ryan, barely 22, can overcome the handicap of blistered fingers and service stints to come up to his potential. Gary Gentry, the collegiate All-American at Arizona State two years ago, is the Mets' top rookie pitcher. Kranepool, Ken Boswell, Bud Harrelson, and Ed Charles make up the infield. Because Boswell and Harrelson have military obligations, the Mets likely will carry added depth in Al Weis, Bob Heise, Kevin Collins, and Wayne Garrett, drafted from Atlanta. LF Cleon Jones finished 1968 sixth in batting in the NL with a .297 average and stole 23 bases. At 26, the Mets feel he should be capable of even bigger things this year. Agee, acquired from the White Sox last year, is also expected to improve from his .217 average last year. Swoboda, Art Shamsky, and rookie Amos Otis should round out the list of five outfielders.

WESTERN DIVISION

CINCINNATI has high expections for 1969. "Watch out for the Reds," manager Dave Bristol says boldly. "We're going to make some noise this year, and I mean a winning noise!" The Reds have a fearsome lineup, headed by NL batting champ Pete Rose and also featuring another of the majors' select list of six .300 hitters, Alex Johnson. Cincinnati led both leagues last season with a whopping team batting average of .273, and even though GM Bob Howsam and Bristol traded away one of their better hitters in Vada Pinson. In exchange for Pinson, the Reds received 23 year old Bobby Tolan from the Cardinals. Cincinnati's infield is well-established with Lee May at first, Tommy Helms at second, Tony Perez at third, and Woody Woodward at short. Catcher John Bench was Rookie of the Year last season, batting .275 with 15 HR and 82 RBI. Woodward moves into Leo Cardenas' shortstop berth. Cardenas, 30, was traded to Minnesota to fill a pitching need. That brings us to the Reds shortcoming: pitching. For Cardenas, they got Jim Merritt, 25, a left hander who won 12 and lost 16 for the Twins. Merritt started 34 games last season, and on the Reds' staff only George Culver handled that many starts last year. Jim Maloney was off to another slow start, but he finished with three shutouts and won 16 gamea. Tony Cloninger, obtained from the Braves in a June, 1968 trade, showed signs of recapturing his 20 game form, and Clay Carroll, obtained in the same trade, was helpful in relief. Sophomore Gary Nolan rebounded from a sore arm and finished with a 9-4 mark. Help on the farm include catcher Bill Plummer, 21, who batted .291 in the Arizona Instructional League, and 1B/OF Clarence Jones who led the PCL in homers with 24 for Tacoma.

ATLANTA may be one of the most improved clubs if Rico Carty comes back swinging this year. They jumped from 7th to 5th and restored themselves to .500 while Rico spent most of last season in a tuberculosis sanitarium. The medical report gives Carty a clean bill of heath and Atlanta fans are expecting big things from the 29 year old Dominican outfielder. The Braves have a lot of other things going for them, one of which is the presence of Henry Aaron, their perpetual slugging kind who hit his 500th home run - and now is 10 more along the way toward 600. Aaron slipped slightly with a .287 average but hit 29 HR, and wound up with the league's fourth best slugging percentage. With Aaron, Felipe Alou, and a healthy Carty in the Atlanta outfield plus another fine collective performance from the pitching staff (2.92 ERA), the Braves can go as far as their infield will take them. The infield probably wouldn't have been so much a problem to the Braves last season were it not for injuries to Sonny Jackson and Clete Boyer. Boyer was hit in the hand last season by pitches from Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale. He missed the last month and a half prompting the Braves to trade for Bob Aspromonte, who is also one of several in line for the first base job vacated by the disappointing Deron Johnson, who was sold to the Phils. Two of Atlanta's starters, Pat Jarvis and Phil Niekro ranked among the league's ERA leaders and so did Cecil Upshaw, its relief standout who appeared in 52 games, finished 35 of them and won eight. Jarvis' 16 victories were the most by any Braves' pitcher since the club left Milwaukee. Rookies OF Ralph Garr (.293 with 32 SB in Texas League) and C Walt Hriniak (.346 Sept. avg. in Atlanta) were protected in the expansion draft, and both are likely to be around this year.

SAN FRANCISCO's past performances would dictate that you can't go far wrong by picking the Giants to finish near the top. The Giants are in a tough division, and they're not taking Cincinnati or Atlanta lightly. At 37, Willie Mays has to keep rolling along. At 31, Willie McCovey must approach his fabulous slugging record of 1968 again. At 20, Juan Marichal must continue to play his role as stopper on a good -if not deep- pitching staff. The Giants have a new manager, Clyde King, who is familiar with the youngsters in the organization, having managed Phoenix. King would like to surround Mays in center with Bobby Bonds, who broke in impressively with nine homers in 81 games last year, and Jim Ray Hart, his power-hitting 3B who seems to thrive more on an outfield diet. In the infield beyond McCovey, there are likely to be some changes. 3B Bob Etheridge and 2B Don Mason are expected to get good chances to break into the infield. Ron Hunt as charged with more errors than any second baseman in the league, but he hit .250 and got on base more than anyone on the ballclub, largely because he was hit by pitches 25 times. Hunt may get a trial at third, but also available is veteran Jim Davenport and Cesar Gutierrez and Tito Fuentes are on hand for another look. For the fifth time in the last six years, Juan Marichal won more than 20 games. With 170 victories behind him, the Dominican right-hander looms possibly as baseball's next 300 game winner. Teammate Bobby Bolin (10-5) who started and relieved was second to Bob Gibson in ERA last year, and Gaylord Perry (16-15) pitched a no-hitter against the Cardinals. Ray Sadecki (12-18) was the workhorse, and Mike McCormick (12-14) slipped from his 22 victory Cy Young season of 1967. Rich Robertson, 24, is a fireballer who won 18 for Phoenix in the PCL.

LOS ANGELES has a major emphasis on kids by the dean of big league managers, Walter Alston. "I'm going to give all our kids plenty of chances to chase the veterans to the sidelines this spring," said Alston. A quick glance at the pitching staff indicates that there will be room for three newcomers. Jim Grant and John Billingham were both snatched away by Montreal in the expansion draft. Additionally, Mike Kekich was traded to the Yankees. The ERA of the Dodgers, 2.69, was second best only to the champion Cardinals. Don Drysdale, who strung together 58 consecutive shutout innings while spinning six consecutive shutouts, led the way with 14 victories but was on the shelf resting a balky shoulder while the Dodgers were the league's winningest team in September. Behind Drysdale, Don Sutton, Bill Singer, and Claude Osteen complete the main starting squad. Jim Brewer won eight games in relief with a great screwball, and Pete Mikkelsen, 1.91 ERA at Tulsa, figure to head the relief corps. The Dodgers have chosen to tailor their outfield dimensions by moving home plate out 10 feet, reducing the "power alleys" to 375 feet. While this could increase the stress on Alston's pitching staff, it should perk up the Dodger offense. With this in mind, they picked up Andy Kosco from the Yankees for Kekich. Kosko's right handed bat will balance out the lineup of leftys Willie Davis, Ron Fairly, Len Gabrielson, and rookie Willie Crawford. Catcher Tom Haller was the Dodgers' leading hitter last season and Alston is so satisfied with him that receiver Ted Sizemore, 23, has been making a shift to the infield and may enter the second base picture. Jim Lefebvre (.241) and Wes Parker (.239) did not hit enough to satisfy Alston, but their second and first base jobs seem secure. Late season impressiveness of Bill Sudakis at third and Paul Popovich at short has hiked their chances to win those jobs.

HOUSTON has never been a factor in the race since joining the NL in 1962. But until last year, they could say proudly that they never finished in the basement. In 1968, crippled by the loss of Joe Morgan with a knee injury and plagued with more than their share of military absenteeism, Houston slipped one game into the cellar. To the credit of GM Spec Richardson and his new manager, Harry Walker, the Astros did not sit still. Houston peddled one of its top pitchers in Mike Cuellar to Baltimore as part of a five player deal that brought slugger Curt Belfary to the Astrodome. The Astros shocked a lot of folks by sacrificing young Rusty Staub for Montreal's Donn Clendenon and Jay Alou. Catcher John Edwards was secured from the Cardinals for pitcher Dave Giusti, pitchers Dooley Womack and Bill Monbouquette were obtained for lesser talent. Walker feels Houston now has more depth, speed, and experience - and is also improved behind the plate (Edwards) and in the outfield (Blefary and Alou). The reports on Morgan indicate that he will be sound again but he may have to look for a new job. Denis Menke apparently found a home in his spot. Doug Rader is groomed to take over third with the trade of Bob Aspromonte to the Braves last year. Larry Dierker (12-15), Don Wilson (13-16) and Denver LeMaster (10-15) will have to find new starting partners with the loss of Guisti and Cuellar. It may be determined that Danny Coombs will fill the bill or Wade Blasingame. Relief pitchiing will be in the hands of Fred Gladding who is all right after his elbow troubles and Womack who worked 45 games for the Yankees last year.

SAN DIEGO is the ballclub of "Buzzy" Bavasi, and the former Dodger GM has surrounded himself with his old pals. Roger Craig and Wally Moon will serve as coaches. Duke Snider will be a scout and broadcaster, and Buzzy has tapped Preston Gomez, on of Walt Alston's coaches, to be his field manager. Most of San Diego's draft picks were chosen with an eye to the future. "We went with young players with the idea of building a contending club in three or four years. If we have to finish last, we'd rather do it with youngsters who are learning and improving," said Bavasi after looking over his 1969 roster. Dick Selma could be the ace. He pitched three shutouts while winning nine and losing 10 for the Mets last season. Pitchers Al McBean (Pittsburgh) and Bill McCool (Reds), and rookies Al Santorini, Frank Reberger, and Dave Roberts all will contribute this year. Jose Arcia, the Cubs chief utility player last year, is tabbed for second while ex-Phillie Roberto Pena is the top shortstop candidate. Tony Gonzalez was a steal in the 4th round from the Phillies and will provide veteran leadership for this young club. Ron Davis, part of the 5 player deal that returned Dave Giusti to St. Louis, Ivan Murrell, Clarence Gaston (Braves) and Larry Stahl (Mets) all are in the running for outfield jobs.