The Astros made one of the first major signings of the offseason in December when they inked veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran to a one-year contract. Beltran is returning to Houston following his brief stint with the team in 2004.

Beltran, 39, wrote about his decision to return to the Astros at the Players' Tribune this week, and in his post he explains why he thinks the Astros are the team to beat in 2017. Here's a snippet in which Beltran discusses a conversion he had with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa over dinner last month:

At first the three of us were just sitting at the table making small talk, but then, all of a sudden, José turns to me with this really serious look and starts talking baseball. It was like he couldn't take it anymore. He had something he needed to bring up.

"Carlos," he said, "I need to get better."

At first, I just kind of looked at him.

I mean, this is a guy who has been one of the most consistent players in the big leagues pretty much from the day he got called up. Last year he hit .338.

So he continues on, and he's asking me for advice on how to improve when it comes to hitting certain pitches. He's like, I know I didn't hit such and such pitch great last year. What can I do to hit that pitch better?

Altuve, who is still only 26, finished third in the AL MVP voting last season, and set new career highs in on-base percentage (.351), slugging percentage (.531), OPS (.928), OPS+ (154), home runs (24), RBI (96), walks (60), total bases (340), and WAR (7.7). He's already one of the best hitters in the game, and he's still trying to pick Beltran's brain so he can get better.

In addition to Beltran, the Astros added Brian McCann (trade) and Josh Reddick (free agent) this offseason to further strengthen their lineup. Houston scored 724 runs last season, eighth most in the AL and 15th in MLB, and now their offense figures to be much improved. Manager A.J. Hinch's lineup could look something like this:

  1. CF George Springer
  2. 2B Jose Altuve
  3. SS Carlos Correa
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. DH Evan Gattis
  7. LF Josh Reddick
  8. 3B Alex Bregman
  9. 1B Yulieski Gurriel

There's plenty of maneuverability there. Norichika Aoki can play left field with Beltran at DH and Gattis on the bench, for example. Jake Marisnick and Teoscar Hernandez could also factor into the outfield somehow. Marwin Gonzalez will get some at-bats too and may be baseball's best utility man. That's a pretty fearsome lineup no matter how it shakes out.

Carlos Beltran is ready to help the Astros any way he can. USATSI

Beltran, in addition to his 29 home runs and .295/.337/.513 (122 OPS+) batting line from a year ago, is going to bring some great intangible qualities to the clubhouse. He's long been known as a great mentor and leader, someone who goes out of his way to help young players.

In his Players' Tribune post, Beltran reflected on how Craig Biggio helped him when he arrived in Houston in 2004. Now he wants to pay it forward.

Over the years, I've become passionate about helping guys get through those down times -- whether it's sharing preparation tips, or things I do in the cage, or just providing encouragement. If someone's struggling, or needs some guidance, I want to do all I can to help, and I told A.J. that straight up.

Then, when I decided to join the Astros, I called him up and relayed a very simple, straightforward message.

"Put my locker next to young guys who I can help," I said. "Get me around the kids ... the players who I can have an impact on. In spring training, during drills, whenever you can. Give me the opportunity to help all the young players get better."

If you're into such things, the projection systems at FanGraphs peg the Astros as the fifth best team in baseball. That's based on individual player projections and playing time estimates. Only the Red Sox are projected to score more runs, and even then the difference between the two clubs is one run every 1,250 games.

Personally, I'd like to see the Astros add one more high-end starter to pair with Dallas Keuchel, who is coming off a shoulder injury and wasn't all that great in 2016. Houston is obviously all-in right now. You don't sign Beltran and Reddick, and trade for McCann, unless you want to win this year. Trading some top prospects for Jose Quintana sure makes a lot of sense to me.

Either way, the Astros are poised for sustained success because Altuve and Correa are so young, as are Springer and Bregman. Even if Beltran doesn't help get them to the World Series this year, the team hopes his impact on the youngsters behind the scenes pushes them to the next level going forward.