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COLUMBUS–Erick Almonte packed his bags for Columbus, promising to play hard and put up numbers so he could make his way from Triple-A back to the big leagues.

While that could happen if Derek Jeter’s left shoulder gives him trouble–or if the Yankees need a backup third baseman–chances are good that Almonte’s role is as trade bait when the Yankees make a midsummer roster upgrade.

Almonte’s stock, which plummeted during an awful 2002 season, has never been higher after he batted .272-1-11 in 92 at-bats while Jeter missed the first six weeks of the season. His nine errors were alarming, but many clubs have Almonte on their radar screen.

During Almonte’s stay, manager Joe Torre often talked about how the 25-year-old could become a third baseman. That’s the position he played when he signed in 1996 out of the Dominican Republic. Even though Drew Henson was struggling again at Columbus, however, he will get first crack at replacing Robin Ventura next year simply because the Yankees invested $17 million in the former Michigan quarterback.

Adding to the reasons Almonte could be on the move: After this year he qualifies as a minor league free agent and will be able to test the market. Whatever happens, Almonte said he absorbed a lot during his big league stay.

"I learned how big leaguers play the game and how they prepare," Almonte said. "I think I did a good job filling in for Jeter. I feel happy with the way I played here. Now I have to go (to Columbus) and be more consistent, play hard and put up numbers and try to get back here. The errors are part of the game. I know I can play defense. It’s just a matter of more concentration."

Torre constantly praised Almonte, saying how difficult it is to replace a player like Jeter in New York. Of course, Torre welcomed Jeter back with open arms.

Yankee Doodles

• After a miserable start, Trenton’s pitching picked up thanks to a big jump in Chien-Ming Wang’s velocity and Edison Reynoso’s ability to throw strikes. Wang’s velocity improved from 90 to 95 mph.

• Yankees signed veteran righthander Rolando Arrojo to a minor league deal and sent him to Columbus. "He gives us insurance, and it’s nice to have a veteran there," Torre said.

• Previous organization report: Sean Henn

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