As a former gymnast, Rachel Luba is an expert at balancing. Which is perfect, since the baseball agent is juggling a ton these days.
For starters, there's the fledgling player representation agency she launched in 2019 with a goal of turning an antiquated business model on its head. Unapologetically herself in the historically male-dominated industry of baseball, Luba's maneuvering in ways simultaneously inspiring for her admirers and maddening for her haters. But most notably, the agent's on the verge of negotiating and finalizing a massive new contract for her friend who just happens to be the No. 1 free agent available this offseason.
Unless you’re a baseball nerd, you’re forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with Luba. As a rookie representative who doesn’t have a client list comparable to an uber agent like Scott Boras, that’s to be expected. But in a year that’s been unforgettable for all the wrong reasons, Luba hopes to end 2020 on a high and historic note when Trevor Bauer—the NL Cy Young Award-winning pitcher from the Reds who happens to be Luba’s first client and pal from their UCLA days—signs a new deal.
It will be noteworthy not because of the millions of dollars Bauer—the witty right-hander known for his provocative social media presence and dominance on the mound this past season—assuredly will collect. It’s because the 28-year-old Luba will be helping get the deal done.
“It’s a unique position I’m in, this being my first real free agent contract, and it’s the biggest free agent of the offseason,” she says. “There’s definitely pressure there, but I do well under pressure. It’s a very exciting person to represent right now.”
It’s a journey Luba, according to Forbes the youngest certified female agent in baseball who was named to the publication's 30 Under 30 list earlier this month, has been on since 2011. It started at UCLA, where, as a gymnast, she knew nothing about baseball when she arrived on campus. Thanks to living in the same dorm as a bunch of the Bruins ballplayers, she became friends with several—including Bauer—and learned the game. “There was never a question too stupid, and let me tell you, looking back, I asked some stupid questions,” says Luba.
Bit by the baseball bug, Luba soon grew increasingly intrigued by the representation business after hearing stories from Bruins ballplayers who were fielding pitches from agents. So after graduation, she went to law school with the goal of eventually becoming an agent. Following an internship at an agency, she worked for the Major League Baseball Players Association as a salary arbitration attorney until 2018. During her time at the MLBPA, agents would call the union to ask the most mundane questions about the collective bargaining agreement and other protocols. That was an epiphany. If she knew more about the ins and outs of contracts than those guys, who were anything but geniuses, of course she could be an agent.
During the 2019 MLB offseason, she launched Luba Sports, with Bauer as her first client. Luba pitched him on her vision for a different kind of agency and he wanted in. Then he went out and dominated on the mound during his walk year, setting himself up to potentially secure the most lucrative contract in free agency this winter. For Luba, it’s the ultimate chance to prove a decade of hard work and perseverance paid off.
“I would say I want to be the next Scott Boras, but I want to be better than Scott Boras and do it differently,” says Luba.
It all starts with Bauer. Does she get him a massive multi-year deal with a big-market squad, or does Bauer sign a one-year deal like he’s previously promised would be his modus operandi? After being named the NL’s top pitcher last season, the 29-year-old, who declined the Reds’ qualifying offer to become a free agent, will easily earn $30 million-plus next season.
While a number of teams are rumored to have serious interest in the hurler, the hot one these days has him linked to the Mets. The Reds would love to retain him, but Bauer will probably become the first Cy Young winner to sign with another team since Greg Maddux left the Cubs for the Braves in 1992. He told Complex Sports in November he was prioritizing happiness over everything else.
“At the end of the day, I will always do what my client wants,” says Luba. “Whether people understand his reasoning for what he wants or not, I will always honor what he wants. That’s always been really important to me, and that’s not always honored traditionally in this industry. Agents are always looking out for themselves.”
She’s bracing for the inevitable backlash should Bauer opt for a one-year contract and not land a $300 million deal like Boras’ client Gerrit Cole got from the Yankees last offseason. Or if Bauer swerves and doesn’t sign with a World Series contender. There's also the false narrative that Bauer’s just doing Luba a solid because they’re friends and she didn’t really have to work hard to get to this point. It’s one of many she fights on a daily basis.
"She's really probably done more than a lot of agents had to get to where she's at because she's a female and it's really hard to get doors open in a male dominated industry,” says Bauer.
"I try not to think about all the ancillary things that doing this deal means for future females who want to work in sports or baseball and all of that."
And because she’s knocking down barriers, it means Luba also serves as a role model for many young women. She says people hit her up via email every day looking for a piece of her time or, more specifically, advice. She gets at least 100 DMs a day from men and women and tries to answer the serious ones when she can—or, at the very least, point them toward a podcast where she’s already answered their questions.
“When I’m having a really rough day or I’m dealing with people shitting on me for one thing or another on social media, it makes it worth it, like some messages that I get that I inspired people to do this or someone told me the other day that they’ve modeled their path to work in sports kind of like what I’m doing,” says Luba.
As a woman trying to leave her mark in a male-dominated industry, Luba knows her every move is ripe for critique. Aside from her ties to Bauer and his reputation as a provocateur, agents do not use social media the way Luba does. On Twitter, she takes a page out of Bauer’s playbook and gives zero fucks when it comes to clowning erroneous reports about her clients, offering insights on how the industry really works, or tweeting a hot take.
On Instagram, it’s a different story because Luba is incredibly unbothered posting pics your typical attorney wouldn’t dare—even though she gets plenty of Neanderthals leaving obnoxious or sexist comments. An athlete throughout her life, she’s proud of her body and believes she can send a powerful message by refusing to play down her appearance.
“I’ve tried to realize this is something that I know is going to make my life more difficult,” says Luba. “But I know somebody has to start to try and change it. You know what, screw it. I’ll do it.”
She admits it’s a struggle some days, and she toyed with the idea of not having a public presence on the app. At Pepperdine Law School, friends encouraged her to make her Instagram private. If Luba wanted to be taken seriously, she was told it would be better to reserve the pics for friends and family. Ironically, it was a conversation with Bauer that convinced her otherwise.
“You, of all people, Trevor, do what you want on social media and it gets you in trouble. I can’t do that,” Luba remembers telling Bauer. “I already have enough to go up against. He just kind of looked at me and he was like, ‘So how many females are doing what you’re doing?’ I was like, none that I really know of. ‘Exactly. So what mold are you trying to fit into?’ I was like, that’s a good point.”
Doing things differently also applies to her business practices. By Luba’s estimation, only one other rep in the game, Jon Fetterolf, does what she does—offer à la carte services so players pay only for the things they want or need. And that’s because Fetterolf, a certified MLBPA agent who Luba considers a mentor and is co-repping Bauer this offseason, works at a law firm and not a typical agency. Luba decided to provide her agency’s services—marketing, branding, and negotiation representation—separately in order to craft a more personalized and valuable experience. Typically, she says, players waste money on things they never want or need at a big agency that’s only really paying attention to the superstars. Her intent to flip the industry script was one of the biggest reasons Bauer signed with Luba.
“I want to see a better landscape. I want to see better representation, better branding, better marketing, stuff like that,” says Bauer. “And Rachel and Luba Sports perfectly align with that, allowing flexibility to players to use the money that they've paid their agent in more creative ways and get more for their dollar. They get the same value for the contract negotiation.”
It’s a policy that’s attracted at least one other notable name. Yasiel Puig, the power-hitting outfielder who burst onto the scene with the Dodgers in 2013, signed with Luba this offseason. After sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, the 30-year-old sparkplug originally from Cuba is looking to relaunch his career. “I have a lot of work ahead of me,” Luba says.
But all the intrigue is, of course, centered on Bauer. When he finally makes up his mind, it will be big news. The squad he signs with will not break it on Twitter, and word certainly won’t come from your favorite baseball insider. You’ll know what cap Bauer will wear next season when he tweets it. Or vlogs it. Or grams it. If someone else says they know, don’t believe ’em.
“I’ve already had plenty of writers reach out like, ‘Hey, can I be the one to break it?’ says Luba. “None of you are going to do it. I’m sorry. You can hate me for it, but there’s nothing you can bribe me with to get me to change my mind. This is Bauer’s thing.”
And after the ink is dry on the contract and Luba’s landed her client precisely where he wants to be, she will take a moment for herself. That moment, though, won’t be entirely hers. It’ll be shared by women working throughout the ranks of baseball or other male-dominated industries, looking to break glass barriers. While baseball has come a long way recently, including the groundbreaking hiring of Kim Ng as the general manager of the Marlins in November, what Luba’s about to accomplish is unprecedented.
“I try not to think about all the ancillary things that doing this deal means for future females who want to work in sports or baseball and all of that,” she says. “But every now and then I do take a step back, or I [will] try once the process is over to think about, ‘Wow, this was cool, a big moment.’"