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This will be the hardest season yet for Ron Washington

The Rangers don’t have a closer, their starting rotation is a mess and the team added a pair of high-priced, long-contract clients of Scott Boras in the off-season.

If Ron Washington escapes this mess of high expectations, fat payroll and shaky pitching, it will be the greatest feat in a career loaded with many.

Despite so many questions facing this team, Wash is one of the biggest reasons to bet on the Rangers. Why so many of you do not like this man says more about you, or your baseball IQ, than it does about Ron Washington. He is as much of a baseball man as the late Johnny Oates, Joe Maddon or Terry Francona.

(Oh, yeah, he’s not white. That had better not be the reason you think he’s not a good manager.)

“People say, ‘He’s a motivator.’ Go get Tony Robbins and put him in a (blanking blank) uniform,” Wash told me on Thursday morning. “You gotta know the game.”

Four consecutive 90-win seasons, two World Series appearances and on and on and yet it’s his fault this team isn’t a dynasty. Do you really think a different manager could get that last out in Game 6?

What he was handed was a playoff-contending team in each of the past two seasons, and that’s what the Rangers were.

When is this man going to receive proper credit for his strengths rather than be criticized for his perceived shortcomings?

“A: I hear [the criticism],” Wash told me on Thursday. “B: It doesn’t really bother me.”

Not sure I buy that last part. All managers get ripped; they won’t admit it now, but for years many in St. Louis Cardinals Nation wanted to dump Tony La Russa, and he is often regarded as the best manager in the modern era.

“If another guy can do a better job, go to Jon Daniels and apply at 1000 Ballpark Way in Arlington. But you can’t apply for this job,” Wash said. “No matter how good things are, people are going to pick on somebody, and it’s usually the guy in charge.”

The one-year extension he recently signed is not a true extension but merely a raise. A real extension is the three-year deal the Dodgers handed Don Mattingly. That’s job security, and a message to the clubhouse the front office believes in its manager.

If the Rangers don’t make the playoffs, do you really think the general manager is going to lose his job? The team has a payroll in excess of $130 million; someone is going to be blamed.

Of course, people have been firing Wash since he gave himself an A-plus after leading the Rangers to a 75-87 record in his first season as manager. I was sure he was going to be fired if the team didn’t make the playoffs last season, but it did with that one-game tiebreaker against the Rays.

All the man does is survive, and deal with whatever is handed to him with no complaint.

He has a good team, but not one without serious issues. It should be alarming that pitcher Joe Saunders is already considered a lock for the rotation.

If the Rangers were ever going to fire Wash, it should have been his first season when it looked like he was a former third base coach in over his head, who wanted to be friends rather than a manager. Since then, his teams have adopted his personality — they don’t die.

You better appreciate this man while he is here because bet all of the money you have ever had, and ever will have, that Wash will be hired immediately by another club.

The man gets people and today’s players as well as anyone possibly could.

The fact he handled Milton Bradley in 2008 and coaxed the best season out of a talented but troubled player may be the single most impressive managing achievement this franchise has seen in the past 20 years.

JD may be called a political animal, but do not take Ron Washington for some naive dope. This man knows how to “manage up” — and “manage down.” There is a reason why he is still with the team seven years later.

This, his eighth season, feels different. The team expects to win because of new big bats and a payroll of more than $130 million. The team expects to win despite many reasonable questions and concerns that suggest another playoff appearance is not guaranteed.

Given the way the pitching staff looks right now and the uncertainty surrounding how new veteran players will play for a new team, it would be no surprise if the team just missed the playoffs.

Yet given the way this team has played under this manager, it would be equally surprising if the team did anything but make it again.

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