The MLB free agent market is currently on life support due to a combination of factors. The most significant of those is lack of any signings at the top tier of available players. And the tip of that spear is free agent Trevor Bauer.
The mercurial right-hander stands at the center of an inert market with everyone watching to see what he will finally do. Bauer planned this many months ago. In fact, retracing his path over the past two years reveals a pattern of high profile activity that has increasingly gained attention. But the righteous indignation Bauer is now known for has roots in his college days at UCLA. While there, a feud erupted between him and teammate Gerrit Cole that makes today’s politics look like thumb wrestling. And it’s that feud that has served as the fuel for Bauer’s campaign toward free agency.
Fighting the Good Fight
Prior to the 2020 season there was no more outspoken opponent of cheating in baseball than Trevor Bauer. The California-native screamed to the heavens about other pitchers using pine tar for greater grip on the ball. Bauer claimed 70% of pitchers in MLB used the substance on social media, in an interview on HBO Sports, and in an article he wrote for the Player’s Tribune. His favorite target was the Houston Astros, and his personal nemesis Cole, who had a career resurrection after joining the team. All the while Cole mowed down the league on his way to a $324M free agent contract. Meanwhile, Bauer had the worst stretch of his career, burned a bridge with the Cleveland Indians, and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. After the trade, Bauer gave up 40 earned runs in 56 innings.
The point of contention Bauer has always had is that a better grip on the baseball increases the spin rate on each pitch. The faster the ball spins, the more it bites the air and creates greater and faster movement on the pitch. The former first-round pick did his own research and even consulted with a chemical engineer. Bauer determined that there was no way to increase spin rate without cheating. He tweeted many times that he would not cheat “because I have morals.” Bauer even experimented in a game on April 30, 2018. According to the video posted by Baseball Doesn’t Exist, Bauer was at a typical spin rate of 2300 rpm in that game. Then for one inning his spin rate jumped to 2600 rpm but returned to normal after. Through it all, however, MLB did next to nothing to act on his protests.
Somewhere between the end of the 2019 season and the beginning of the 2020 campaign, Bauer found 300-400 rpm on his pitches. He went from league-average spin rate to leading the league at around 2800. Coincidentally, it was during this time that his arch-rival Cole signed his bank-busting free agent deal. In 2020, Bauer set career-bests in ERA (1.73), WHIP (0.795), home runs per nine innings (5.1) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.3). In only 11 starts he set career highs in complete games (2) and shutouts (2). Bauer made the kind of improvement that he himself said couldn’t be done without cheating. The 29-year-old also spent the 2020 season publicly trolling the Astros over their sign stealing scandal.
Cashing in on Free Agency
Now Trevor Bauer finds himself the keystone of the free agent market. T-shirts emblazoned with “Cy Bauer”, “Send It”, “Bauerweiser” and “Boogeyman” are fashionable holiday gifts. He’s tweeted his image wearing a jersey with the logos of 31 MLB teams on it (St. Louis twice). The title reads, “Trevor Bauer has narrowed his free agency decision down to 30 teams”. Bauer also appeared on social media wearing the caps of five teams and holding those of four others. One tweet showed Bauer sporting a San Diego Padres cap sitting with his two dogs. The title reads “Tobi and Alfie would like to know which team they’ll be rooting for with this guy next season”. He’s teased fans of the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers similarly. Bauer is leveraging fan feedback while contractual nuptials are negotiated.
Behind the Curtain
The negotiations for his expected mega-deal are being conducted by his agent, Rachel Luba. She was an athlete herself at UCLA, primarily in gymnastics. She does, however, lay claim to finishing third in her division in the USIBA, the NCAA’s boxing organization. That’s true, but incomplete. The USIBA held its inaugural national tournament in 2013 in which Luba competed. She doesn’t tell anyone that she competed in the beginner division, the lowest of the three offered. UCLA’s Daily Bruin reported that Luba’s first fight there was her first ever. She won her first bout, then lost her second and didn’t compete any further. Her career collegiate boxing record is 1-1 with a third place finish which is possible only if there’s four participants. Like Bauer, she states the bare truth and lets fans assume the rest.
Luba the Agent
Luba worked her way into becoming a salary arbitration attorney according to her company’s website, lubasports.com. She cites considerable gender bias in the industry, which can’t be doubted in the least. Luba describes herself as an underdog on the professional sports scene, and Bauer is her first client. Her website lists “Hyper-personalized and customizable representation packages,” which aligns perfectly with Bauer’s wishes. In August the two combined to tangle with MLB Network and “High Heat” host Christopher Russo. The bombastic Russo didn’t include Bauer on a list of best pitchers headed to free agency. Both Bauer and Luba unleashed their wrath on Russo and the network via social media. It’s evident that Bauer is the architect of his plan and has found an enabler.
The Tale to Be Told
So it all adds up to what we see now. Major League Baseball officials and fans wouldn’t listen to Bauer when he was blowing the cheating whistle. Now all of them are stuck watching to see if he’ll budge just an inch in any direction. He’s sowed doubt on all fronts to his intentions. In addition to teasing fans from many teams as a free agent, Trevor Bauer has made contradictory statements about the contract he’d accept. He famously stated multiple times that he would spend the rest of his career signing one-year contracts to maximize his earning potential. Then, a few weeks later, he stated that he would be willing to sign a multi-year deal. Bauer has executed a highly calculated plan that just so happens to stick his popularity in the faces of everyone he’s opposed.
But There’s a Dark Side
Trevor Bauer and Rachel Luba have executed an effective campaign for his free agency. But its vision seems to end at the signing of his mega-deal. The effects of his actions won’t end with the rush of money. Did they calculate the individuals he’s trolled focusing a bit more on his newfound success? They might look closer at his possible use of a foreign substance, where it’s hidden, and how it’s applied to his fingers. The chemical engineer he consulted might have his own tale to tell. Bauer can definitely count on negative fan reaction once he signs. Only one group of fans can be made happy while the rest will no doubt feel jilted by his unfulfilled teases. A campaign such as Trevor Bauer has carried out as a free agent will breed backlash. It remains to be seen if he has a plan to deal with that.
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