- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Yankees got themselves an insurance policy without having to pay a premium, or in fact, anything at all, when they acquired veteran outfielder Austin Kearns from the Cleveland Indians on Friday night for a player to be named.
The move was announced shortly after the Yankees lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, cutting their lead in the AL East to one game. Manager Joe Girardi described the 30-year-old Kearns, a veteran of nine major league seasons, eight of them in the National League, as "another corner outfielder who gives us depth and experience, a right-handed bat with power."
Kearns, who had previously played for the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals, was hitting .268 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs in 83 games with the Indians this season. A career .257 hitter, Kearns has played mostly as a right-fielder and has generally hit in the middle of the batting order, two areas that will be tough for him to crack with any regularity on this team.
"We can use him a lot of different ways because he's a guy who's used to playing every day," said Girardi, who expects to have Kearns available for Saturday night's game against the Rays. According to Girardi, Yankees GM Brian Cashman first mentioned the possibility of acquiring Kearns on Friday afternoon. Cashman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
"It'll give me a chance to rest some of our left-handed hitting guys," Girardi said. "We're in the midst right now of 37 games in 38 days, so I won't have to run the same guys out there every day. You can keep them healthy and physically strong, because we're going to need them."
Adding Kearns will necessitate the Yankees' making a roster move, and although Girardi said he was undecided who would be sent down in order to make room, the likeliest candidates are Juan Miranda or Colin Curtis, both of whom have been used in the role Girardi envisions for Kearns.
The move came on the heels of sources telling ESPN's Buster Olney that the Yankees have also acquired Lance Berkman from the Houston Astros, a deal that cannot be officially announced until 24 hours have passed from the time Berkman, a 10-and-5 player, agreed to waive his no-trade clause in order to come to New York.
According to reports, Berkman agreed at about 1:30 p.m., meaning he, too, might be able to join the Yankees in time for Saturday's 7:10 p.m. game.
That was enough for Mark Teixeira to comment favorably on both deals. "That's great," he said. "They're both great guys, two quality guys. I know both of them real well. They're going to be great for this clubhouse."
Asked how either Kearns or Berkman, both middle of the order hitters, would fit into the packed Yankees lineup, Teixeira said, "I have no idea. We have so many dynamic players on our team. But no one guy has to carry this team and that's the great thing about the Yankees. They're always going to do what it takes to win, and you see it today, getting two players like that. It's great. The city of New York deserves a winner every year and that's what we're trying to give them."
Kearns, who went 2-for-3 for the Indians in Cleveland's 8-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night before being pulled for a pinch-runner in the seventh inning, said he had no idea he would be headed to the Yankees. "Nobody told me anything until after the game," he said. "When I came out I thought something might be up, then I just thought maybe I was getting a blow or something. Then they took me inside and told me."
The Yankees had gotten a good look at Kearns earlier this week during their four-game set in Cleveland. On Tuesday, Kearns led off the sixth inning with a triple that helped secure the Indians' 4-1 win. "I'm excited about the opportunity," he said. "I always enjoy playing teams like that, teams that are obviously playoff or World Series caliber. I'm sure I'll just kinda be in the mix, maybe in the outfield, but I think when you get the opportunity to go to a team like that you don't worry about those kind of things. You got bigger and better things to think about."
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed Friday night the team has acquired outfielder Austin Kearns from the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later.