OAKLAND -- A's general manager Billy Beane isn't afraid to make an unpopular trade, and he made what figures to be another one on Tuesday, when he sent right-handers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for a four-player package.

It immediately brought to mind Beane's winter flurry of deals, which initially left A's fans scratching their heads, but eventually proved a bounty.

Worried about Oakland's overall health and organizational depth, and mindful that the rival Angels had strengthened the roster that had won the 2007 American League West title, Beane started a full-fledged rebuilding process last December that led to dealing ace Dan Haren, outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, outfielder Mark Kotsay and utilityman Marco Scutaro for a total of 13 prospects.

Concerned about his team's health, and mindful that the pitching-rich and AL West-leading Angels appear to be snapping out of their season-long offense slumber, Beane moved Harden and Gaudin.

In return, he got 22-year-old righty starter Sean Gallagher, who will replace Harden in the rotation immediately; 22-year-old catching prospect Josh Donaldson, whom Beane said is "a few years away" from contributing at the big league level; and another pair of 20-somethings -- outfielder Matt Murton and infielder Eric Patterson -- ticketed for Triple-A Sacramento.

"We've obviously taken a step back in the present," Beane conceded, "but we've taken a step forward [with an eye on] the next several years."

Rich Harden

In other words, the rebuilding process continues.

But with several of his "name" players -Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby and Keith Foulke -- among the seven A's on the disabled list, Beane appears focused even more intently on 2009 and beyond.

"I hate using the terms 'buy' or 'sell'" he said. "We're always looking for opportunities, period. And this was an opportunity to further strengthen the team going forward. We're respectful of the present, but with an eye on the next three to five years.

"I think you have to look where you're headed as opposed to where you are."

So are the A's heading back into the trade waters? Asked if the Harden/Gaudin deal makes it more likely that righty starter Joe Blanton and closer Huston Street, among others, will be dealt for more youngsters in the coming weeks, the GM paused for several seconds.

"No," he said. "I think you look have to look at things independently. Again, though, we're always looking for opportunities."

Not much of a "no," is it?