Ned Colletti: Tony Gwynn Jr. could start

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers could have a realigned outfield in 2011 if newly signed Tony Gwynn Jr. can hit well enough to force his way into the every-day lineup, general manager Ned Colletti said Thursday.

As he prepared to leave baseball's quarterly owners' meetings, Colletti said Gwynn's speed and defensive ability were strong enough that if he can return to form offensively -- he hit just .204 for the San Diego Padres last year -- he could wind up as the regular center fielder, with Matt Kemp moving to right and Andre Ethier to left.

"A couple of years ago, he hit pretty well," Colletti said of Gwynn, who batted a career-high .270 for the Padres in 2009. "He is a very good defensive player who has speed. His playing time at this point will be dictated by how well he hits. If he can get on base enough and hit enough, he could give us added flexibility because he can play all three spots, including center field."

The Dodgers signed Gwynn last month to a one-year, $675,000 contract, ostensibly to share time in left field with Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul, who is out of minor league options.

Although the Dodgers continue to explore the possibility of signing another free-agent outfielder, preferably a right-handed hitter -- veteran Marcus Thames is believed to be at the top of the club's current wish list -- Colletti has said he would feel comfortable going into spring training without signing such a player.

But Colletti also is intrigued by the possibility of Gwynn playing center field every day.

"I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "It depends on a bunch of factors. That is why you have spring training, to play it out and see what happens. Nothing is etched in stone. It just depends on how everybody performs."

Kemp won a Gold Glove in center field in 2009, but his defensive play regressed in 2010. Because he has a stronger arm than Ethier, Kemp would be a better candidate for right field if he were to be displaced in center by Gwynn.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.