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NorCal's Luba brings unique approach to Bauer's free agency

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The highly-anticipated pursuit of Trevor Bauer has been remarkably quiet if you look at traditional media outlets. There have been no reports of visits or offers, and very few rumors about where the NL Cy Young Award winner might end up or which teams might be chasing him the hardest. 

But in a very modern way, the Bauer market is crackling. Los Angeles Angels fans got #BauerToAnaheim trending last week, and New York Mets fans soon did the same. If you swipe through agent Rachel Luba's pages, you'll find half of the big leagues represented. A Giants fan photoshopped Bauer standing in front of Oracle Park. Los Angeles Dodgers fans digitally altered the famous Hollywood sign. Bauer has been placed in just about every team's jersey, and Luba has even found her puppies "wearing" the caps of suitors

Luba said she is tagged hundreds of times a day in photos and comments, and she reposts many of them to her own pages. Bauer even made a YouTube video ranking the best pitches from fan bases, an onslaught that serves multiple purposes for his agent.

Front office officials are all lurking on Twitter and Instagram these days, and they're getting a daily reminder of what their fan base wants. But beyond that, the campaign is simply fun. It's bringing some levity and buzz to an offseason that otherwise has been so boring you might have forgotten baseball plans to return in two months. 

 

"Baseball is a business and a sport, but it's also entertainment. That's the industry. Without the fans, baseball is really nothing, it doesn't thrive the way that it does," Luba said in a phone interview last week. "The offseason -- and people talk about this all the time -- is slow and boring for fans. Last offseason was great because you had a scandal (with the Astros), but other than that, when does anyone really care? There's always hype about being a big free agent, but for 29 other teams it's over. 

"To be able to engage fans and let them feel like it's their team, they can help sell their team and promote their team and have some influence on where a player ends up signing, I think that's a really cool thing. It helps keeps fans engaged and it's been fun. I didn't realize at first the kind of feedback and engagement we would get, but some of the pitches I get on why people should come to their team, they put a lot of effort in."

Those pitches are not just limited to fans on social media. Luba was born and raised in Monterey and grew up in a big family that cheered on the Giants and 49ers. She went to UCLA and then got a law degree at Pepperdine, which extended a circle that includes people from all fan bases, and many who root for the Giants.

They all have the same questions as her followers. 

"I've been getting nonstop texts trying to get information," she said. "I'm like, 'I love you guys, but this is my job.' "

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It is one that traditionally has been done by men working at large agencies, but Luba is blazing a new path. Less than two years after she established Luba Sports, the 28-year-old finds herself at the center of the offseason. She recently added Yasiel Puig as a client, but it is Bauer who will draw the most headlines this winter. He is far and away the best pitcher available, and thanks in large part to his own self promotion, he is the biggest star of this winter's class.

Years ago, though, he was just another UCLA baseball player asking Luba if he could borrow some of her notes from class. 

Luba was on the gymnastics team at UCLA and lived on the same floor as the freshmen baseball players. She had grown up with three brothers and soon found that the baseball players became her brothers in a new home. Luba would help some of them with their notes, and Bauer, who would become a star at UCLA, asked right away. 

"We were walking back from class and I could tell he was smart," Luba said. "I was like, 'I'm not going to give you notes, buddy. You clearly are smart enough to take notes yourself.' "

 

The friendship grew from there, and Bauer became a key factor in Luba's growth as she pursued her own dream. Luba knew so early on that she wanted to be an agent that it is listed in her UCLA gymnastics bio. And while at first she just knew she wanted to work with athletes in one of the major sports, she soon gravitated towards baseball. Because gymnastics took up so much of her life, Luba was just a casual Giants fan growing up, but she reconnected with the sport at UCLA, peppering Bauer and the other players in her dorm with questions. 

After Bauer was taken third overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, he introduced Luba to his agent. That meeting confirmed her plan, but perhaps not in the way she first expected. The man told her how difficult it would be for a woman to be an agent. 

"That solidified that I was going to do it," she said. "I taught myself the sport inside and out."

Bauer was there to help, and in many ways he was following a similar path. Bauer is famous for his use of advanced analytics and modern training methods -- he was the first poster boy for the work being done at Driveline -- and has been on a never-ending search for more knowledge as a big league pitcher. He has faced plenty of critics along the way, but last year it all came together. Bauer posted a 1.73 ERA in the shortened season and won the NL Cy Young Award.

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It was perfect timing for Bauer, who vaulted to the top of the market. It also seemingly added layers of pressure for Luba. The industry is watching to see what kind of deal she can get for her longtime friend and most high-profile client, but she said she's embracing the pressure, likening it to her days as a collegiate gymnast. 

"I enjoy the pressure, I enjoy these moments," she said. "I do realize how important it is and that there are a lot of eyes on what we're doing."

They're doing it their own way, and will continue to do so. In a sport where most stars shy away from the public eye, Bauer is sitting down and judging tweets sent in by fans. Luba is talking to teams behind the scenes, but is complementing that with very public relationship with fan bases that you won't find from others in the industry. 

"I think Trevor is doing things different. He's changing the game, and I'm kind of trying to do the same thing in the agent world," Luba said. "I really do believe in, and I've seen it just in the last month or two and over the past season, the value and the fan interest in the business side of baseball and being so transparent about it.

 

"That was always something that was important to me."