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Royals’ willingness to consider Andruw Jones jump-starts talks with Guillen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. | Maybe all it took was a bit of negotiating leverage Monday for the Royals to heat up their stalled talks with free-agent outfielder Jose Guillen.

A growing willingness by the club to view Andruw Jones as a possible alternative seemed to serve as a catalyst. Sources now say the Royals and Guillen are closing in on a three-year contract believed to be valued at $33-36 million.

FoxSports.com also reported the two sides were nearing a deal.

Earlier Monday, the Royals acknowledged disappointment at the lack of progress in negotiations with Guillen, who emerged as their primary off-season target after Torii Hunter signed with the Angels.

Word soon circulated the club was taking another look at Jones, a five-time All-Star with the Braves. General manager Dayton Moore declined to confirm interest in Jones but indicated the club was willing to consider new possibilities.

“Our focus remains the same,” Moore said. “We’re trying to acquire some middle-of-the-order bats through free agency or trades. We’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now.

“Every day that goes by, the more intrigued I get with other opportunities.”

Guillen, 31, doesn’t appear to have any other major suitor. The Mets previously expressed mild interest but are currently overloaded with outfielders.

Sources say Jones initiated discussions with the Royals after drawing scant interest from efforts by agent Scott Boras to secure a contract that matches or exceeds the five-year, $90 million deal that Hunter received from the Angels.

Jones is well-known to Moore from their time together in Atlanta. Moore spent 12 years in the Braves’ front office before joining the Royals in June 2006. Jones, 30, has spent his entire 12-year career in the Braves’ organization.

The Royals still appear to prefer Guillen, who batted .290 last season with 23 homers and 99 RBIs in 153 games for Seattle.

But talks stalled when Guillen asked for a four-year deal. The Royals didn’t want to exceed two years with Guillen -- or Jones -- but were willing to accept a sharply higher per-year salary to fill their need for a run-production bat in the middle of their lineup.

“The juggling act for us,” Moore said, “is we’re at a point where we need to prioritize what makes sense for us in acquiring free agents.”

The emerging compromise with Guillen appears to be a three-year contract with less per-year money than a proposed two-year deal.

Interestingly, the Royals don’t necessarily view Guillen and Jones as an either/or proposition. Sources said the club is willing to consider signing both, especially if Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda signs elsewhere.

The Dodgers have the only known bid out to Jones, reported by ESPN.com as $32 million over two years. The Giants and, perhaps, the Brewers are also believed to have some interest.

The Royals appear willing to exceed the Dodgers’ offer _ but not by much.

Club officials remain concerned that Jones batted a career-low .222 last season for the Braves, although he had 26 homers and 94 RBIs in 154 games. He also recently won a 10th straight Gold Glove for defensive excellence.

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