The move, which was announced after Friday's 3-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field, offers the Yankees an additional bat off the bench as well as increased defensive flexibility in the outfield.
"He's another corner outfielder that can give us depth and a right-handed bat that has power," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We can use him in a lot of different ways because he's used to playing every day. It just gives us more depth and more experience."
Girardi said he expects Kearns to join the Yankees in St. Petersburg and to be in uniform for Saturday's game against the Rays.
"I'll be in the mix, maybe in the outfield," Kearns said. "I don't know; I haven't talked to them. I think when you get the opportunity [to go to a contender], you don't really worry about that kind of thing. You're going to a good team. [There are] bigger and better things than worrying about playing time."
The 30-year-old Kearns batted .272 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 301 at-bats for the Indians this season. He was pulled from Cleveland's 8-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday in Toronto for a seventh-inning pinch-runner, fueling speculation that trade talks were under way.
Girardi has mentioned in recent weeks that a right-handed bat would be desirable, although he said Kearns' name did not come up in conversations with general manager Brian Cashman until Friday.
"Our young guys have done a pretty good job, but you do have experience in a guy that's used to playing every day," Girardi said. "He gives you depth and has seen all the pitchers, probably, in the American League because it's already July. He has probably a better idea how they're going to attack him."
Kearns may be able to assist in spelling Curtis Granderson, who has historically struggled against left-handed pitching.
"It'll give me a chance to rest our left-handed guys," Girardi said. "We're in the midst of 37 games in 38 days, and you don't have to run the same guys out there every day. Physically you can keep them healthy and strong, because we're going to need them."
The swap with the Indians was the second notable move made by the Yankees on Friday, with Lance Berkman reportedly heading to New York from the Astros to serve as a designated hitter, replacing the injured Nick Johnson.
"That's great because we're a team that's all about winning and anyone who can come in here and help us score more runs," Mark Teixeira said. "[They are] two quality guys. I know both real well. They're great guys, and it's going to be great for this clubhouse."
Girardi said he did not know how the roster would change to accommodate the arrival of Kearns -- and, although he could not comment about it because the deal has not been officially announced, Berkman.
"It's something that we'll have to talk about," Girardi said. "When you bring someone in, usually someone has to go down. We'll talk about that probably tonight and decide what moves we're going to make."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.