It's hardly the way to start a season.

The Royals are playing a man down. The sudden death of Yordano Ventura this offseason leaves a void that goes beyond depth charts and quality starts. No matter how they fare in 2017, his loss will define it, making their 2016 playoff miss seem like nothing more than a cloudy day.

And unfortunately, the Royals may have more cloudy days ahead. They're in no-man's land after emptying the farm to secure back-to-back AL championships (and, thankfully, one world championship). Their homegrown nucleus is about to become cost-prohibitive but may have one last run in it. Dump it now, and their only payoff for decades of misery is two glorious years. Hold out too long, and the rebuild becomes as slow and painful as the last.

So they took the in-between measure of trading closer Wade Davis, an instrumental part of their championship but also a free agent next offseason, for Jorge Soler, a long-term piece who's ready to contribute now. By today's going rate for an ace reliever, the deal was lopsided, but the Royals needed a power bat more than they needed a closer, what with Kelvin Herrera ready to step into the role.

Of course, neither Soler nor recent free-agent signing Brandon Moss is likely to match what they lost in Kendrys Morales, who bolted for a Toronto after career-reviving two-year run. Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon both have some rebound potential, though, and Mike Moustakas is back from a torn ACL to give them another middle-or-the-order bat and relegate Cheslor Cuthbert to utility duty. So the offense should be better, if not by leaps and bounds.

Really, then, it comes down to the pitching staff, which is where Ventura's loss is most palpable. Danny Duffy took steps toward becoming a legitimate No. 1 last year, which is something they've lacked since Zack Greinke. But one of Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel will have to pose as a No. 2 when they're really more like Nos. 3 and 4, and Jason Vargas and Nathan Karns are just other teams' excess whose only real hope of success is exploiting a big home ballpark.

And with the Davis trade subtracting from the Royals' bullpen depth, well, that's no longer the ace in the hole.

There's still the hope of a wild card, of course, from a nucleus that has exceeded all expectations before -- more than once, actually. But that nucleus is in its final days, and if the Royals are out of it come mid-July, it may break up for good.

2017 projected lineup
1
2
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Mike Moustakas 3B
3
4
5
6
7
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Jorge Soler RF
8
9
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Raul Mondesi 2B
Bench
Bench
2017 projected pitching staff
1
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Danny Duffy LHP
2
3
4
5
Alt SP
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Matt Strahm LHP
Closer
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Kelvin Herrera RHP
Setup
Relief
Relief
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Chris Withrow RHP
Relief
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Chris Young RHP

Is now the time for a Jorge Soler breakout?

Now is as good a time as any, right? The truth is, knowing Soler's pedigree and seeing the havoc he wreaked on minor-league pitching, any year between now and age 30 could be the year he breaks out. What makes this year more promising the last, though, is his supporting cast -- or lack thereof. While the Cubs couldn't find a spot for him, the Royals couldn't wait to find a spot for him, dealing ace closer Wade Davis straight-up.

Quietly, given his irregular role, Soler made strides toward becoming a top-flight power hitter last year, becoming one of the game's more exaggerated fly-ball hitters while getting his home run-to-fly ball rate closer to where it was when he hit five home runs in 89 at-bats as a rookie. Combined, those alterations could lead to big things.

Of course, they also led to the .276 BABIP he had last year, which means he has to hit a bunch of home runs to amount to anything in Fantasy. And Kauffman Stadium isn't the easiest place to do that. Best-case scenario, he's Khris Davis. Worst-case scenario, he's struggling to hit even .200 because of all the fly-ball outs, particularly at home. He's one of the many high-variance outfielders you'll find in the late rounds.

How good can Kelvin Herrera be as a closer?

Well, he put together a 2.75 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year. That's, what, Roberto Osuna?

Here's how those numbers rate against some of the top closers in the game:

Roberto Osuna: 2.68 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 10.0 K/9
Mark Melancon: 1.64 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 8.2 K/9
Craig Kimbrel: 3.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 14.1 K/9
Wade Davis: 1.87 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.8 K/9
Jeurys Familia: 2.55 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.7 K/9
Seung-Hwan Oh: 1.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 11.6 K/9

I'd say he matches up pretty well, wouldn't you?

Now, he doesn't have a long history of performing at quite that level -- the strikeout rate in particular was a surprise -- but we saw him dominate in the postseason the previous two seasons and had reason to believe he had that kind of potential.

The Royals are like a closer factory, churning out Greg Holland and then Wade Davis without much in the way of buildup. Herrera would seem like a reasonable choice to follow suit. He's a borderline top-12 closer with top-five upside. For what it's worth, he recorded 10 saves with a 2.35 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings during a month-long stretch (August, basically) filling in for Davis last year.

Is Matt Strahm the starter a good idea?

Strahm was a revelation as a reliever late last year. Working off his 96-mph fastball, he compiled a 1.23 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings over 21 appearances. But he was only in that role because the Royals wanted to preserve his innings. The 124 1/3 he reached between the majors and minors were a career high.

The hope is he has a complete enough secondary arsenal to make it as a starter, beating out Nathan Karns for the role this spring. Does he? Well, the curveball is thought to be a possible out pitch, but the changeup will be the key. A left-handed starter pretty much needs one to survive all the right-handed hitters he'll be facing, and Strahm's is average at best. Plus, you have to figure he'll lose some velocity off that fastball when extended over six innings. So no, he won't dominate in that role as he did in relief.

But he'll retain relief pitcher eligibility, which is huge in Head-to-Head points leagues, and he offers enough upside to deserve a late-round look even in mixed formats. Just be advised: If he doesn't shore up the role early, the Royals might opt to keep him where they know he can thrive.