ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Cardinals agreed Friday to a $19 million, two-year contract with center fielder Jim Edmonds, their first major move since winning the World Series.

The 36-year-old Edmonds had filed provisionally for free agency on Nov. 2, awaiting a decision by the team on its $10 million option, which carried a $3 million buyout.

St. Louis had until Saturday to exercise its option on the eight-time Gold Glove winner. Instead, the sides agreed to a new deal that calls for an $11 million salary next year and $8 million in 2008. St. Louis will defer $3 million of his 2007 salary, paying it in equal installments from 2010-19.

The deal reflects the Cardinals’ satisfaction with Edmonds’ strong performance in the postseason on the heels of an injury-plagued season that was his worst this decade.

“Jim has been a great Cardinal and one of the best players in the game since he’s been with us,” team chairman William DeWitt said. “We are pleased to have him back for the next two years.”

Edmonds shook off physical problems that dogged him throughout the regular season, leading the Cardinals with 10 RBIs in the postseason. He went a month between starts due to post-concussion syndrome and also had shoulder and foot injuries, batting .257 with 19 homers and 70 RBIs – his lowest totals since 1999.

General manager Walt Jocketty said the Cardinals would like to have Edmonds finish his career in St. Louis.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” Jocketty said. “We wanted to make sure he was OK. Obviously, he was in the month of October.”

Edmonds batted only .156 against left-handers, leading manager Tony La Russa to ponder at one point whether to platoon him in the playoffs. During the postseason, Edmonds needed a daily numbing injection in his left foot related to a problem caused by a bunion, and may also need minor offseason shoulder surgery.

In the last six weeks of the regular season, he made only four starts.

None of that held him back in the postseason. Edmonds homered twice in the NL championship series and his two-run double off lefty Nate Robertson provided the first runs in the Cardinals’ 5-0 victory over the Tigers in Game 3 of the World Series.

Edmonds also made several nice plays in the outfield, topped by a spectacular catch at the wall in Game 5 of the NLCS to rob the Mets’ Jose Reyes of extra bases.

Jocketty said Edmonds was “extremely happy” with the contract extension.

“He came back strong physically and played well,” Jocketty said. “The two-year extension is something we felt we wanted to try and do.”

Since joining the Cardinals in a trade from Anaheim, Edmonds has ranked in the top five in slugging percentage, home runs, RBIs, doubles and batting average among all center fielders. He has batted .288 with 229 homers, fourth on the franchise career list, and 660 RBIs in 988 games with the Cardinals.

Edmonds won a Gold Glove in each of his first six seasons with St. Louis. His injury-plagued 2006 ended that run.

AP-ES-11-10-06 1921EST

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